You'd think that the makers of EDtv could take comfort in critic
Roger Ebert's dictum that "a movie isn't about what it's about, it's how
it's about what it's about." The film is, after all, facing the daunting
task of following THE TRUMAN SHOW, a brilliant satire on the cult of
personality and loss of privacy in the mass media age. EDtv, the
filmmakers could argue, is about some of those same themes in a different
way. This one is about why people choose to be famous, and what they give
up along the way. Sure, like THE TRUMAN SHOW it's about a man's life
turned into 24-hour entertainment, but director Ron Howard could still
make the claim that EDtv is unique.
And he'd be right, for all the worst possible reasons. EDtv is a
shallow and jokey rendering of its subject, a toothless satire that fades
before the last punchline. The titular protagonist is Ed Pekurny (Matthew
McConaughey), an under-motivated and under-employed 31-year-old video
store clerk who auditions for a cable network's radical new broadcasting
concept. True-TV's program director Cynthia Topping (Ellen DeGeneres)
wants to turn a man's life into a live, un-edited "reality" program, and
good-looking Everyman Ed is her choice. Amazingly, "EDtv" the show
becomes a must-see hit, particularly when Ed becomes romantically involved
with Shari (Jenna Elfman), the girlfriend of his brother Ray (Woody
Harrelson). Will fame and fortune keep Ed from the chance for true love,
corrupting his values the way we all know media can?
Hard to say, since we're not exactly to privvy to what Ed's values
were in the first place. As played with drawling nonchalance by Matthew
McConaughey, Ed is nearly bereft of an identifiable personality. The
closest Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel's script comes to defining Ed is
suggesting that he's basically a lazy simpleton who figures he can hit the
big time by becoming a celebrity without doing any actual work. Trouble
is, that kind of personality wouldn't instantly endear Ed either to his
televsion audience or to us, so instead he's made a nice-guy rascal who
scratches himself jes' like reg'lar folks. In short, he's a bore, as the
subject of a television show and the subject of a feature film.
Even with a lackluster leading man, EDtv might have worked if there
had been any spark to its satire. How very bizarre to watch it instead
morph into a kind of a meta-commentary on its own mass media
sentibilities. As "EDtv" becomes a phenomenon, we watch a parade of
celebrities offer cameo commentary on Ed-mania: Ariana Huffington, George
Plimpton, filmmaker Michael Moore, Jay Leno, Bill Maher, etc. EDtv often
aims to score points simply by trotting out famous faces, then finds no
irony in a film about fame-for-fame's-sake which includes zingers from
RuPaul. Even the endless series of advertisements on "EDtv" feels more
self-serving than sardonic; aside from the clever use of a Trojans ad
during one of Ed's romantic trysts, they feel like someone trying to have
his product placement cake and eat it too.
EDtv still manages to be sporadically amusing, thanks largely to the
gag-meister sit-com style of Ganz and Mandel. Martin Landau turns in a
sharp supporting performance as Ed's wheelchair-bound stepfather, and
Howard comes up with a couple of nicely-observed touches like the viewing
parties that pop up around Ed's first on-air sex. In general, though, Ron
Howard is a sentimentalist with about as much edginess as a Teletubbie.
He's more interested in making EDtv a fairly generic romanctic comedy than
in digging into the reasons behind Americans' video voyeurism, or
examining how, in a post-modernist twist, our awareness of "reality"
television has made reality just as staged as drama. In the end, EDtv
really is about the subject of mass media in its own way. It's about how
much easier it is to let the viewers feel good than it is to tell them
what they need
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