The idea that shooting a movie is fun, glamorous, thrilling anything but a comic-logistical nightmare is dispelled with side-splitting glee in Tom DiCillo's Living in Oblivion. For the entire movie, we're on a Manhattan soundstage where Nick Reve (Steve Buscemi), a long-haired young director whose eyes pop with intensity, is filming his latest opus. In the opening sequence, he shoots take after take of a melodramatic mother-daughter confrontation, each one wrecked by a small glitch (exposed boom mike, flubbed line, etc.). Everyone in the crew the loudmouth assistant director, the snide cinematographer, the doofus boom man does his or her bit to escalate the pressure-cooker atmosphere of exasperation, until you can practically taste the flop sweat. By the end, Nick blows a fuse, trashing the set and insulting everyone on it. As it turns out, though, that's only what he'd like to do. The poignant joke of Living in Oblivion is that Nick has to lie and manipulate and keep a lid on his own ego simply to get his damn movie made. The holy cause of cinema turns him into the king of the bull artists.
Nick's chief headache is Chad Palomino (James Le Gros), a Hollywood glamour boy who has been cast in the lead role less for his acting skills than for his marquee value. Chad is a vacuous stud whose Method-lite dedication to his craft is as narcissistic as his beach-bum tresses. In 1992, DiCillo made a little downtown movie, the likably daft Johnny Suede, that starred a then up-and-coming Brad Pitt. Chad Palomino is his vengefully transparent takeoff on Pitt and, by implication, on a generation of grunge prima donnas who wear their acting pretensions like fashion statements. Le Gros, in a devious performance, makes Chad terminally fuzzy-headed about everything except his own career. Living in Oblivion is really a clever series of sketches, and the movie doesn't build, mostly because the final segment, in which Nick tries to film a dream sequence with a self-righteous dwarf (Peter Dinklage), is the weakest of the lot. Still, DiCillo gets nifty inside details, such as the bit where Chad reblocks his own love scene (to hilariously inept effect), that none of the recent movie-world satires can match. A hip indie version of Truffaut's Day for Night, Living in Oblivion celebrates the very act of filmmaking as grand folly, a triumph of absurdist heroism. A-