The premise for He’s Way More Famous Than You is risky for its main actress Halley Feiffer – who plays an exaggerated version of herself in the film.
The comedy about a hopeful actress wanting to gain more recognition long after her “star-making” performance in 2005’s The Squid and the Whale can go two ways. It can be a sharply written satire about self-obsession and the Hollywood machine. It can be about what one has to do nowadays to be featured next to a good looking hunk in a sweeping motion picture and how that lucky starlet can raise their likability and familiarity in an insanely competitive career.
Or, it can swing into the opposite field. It can take on an embarrassing bumpy ride as the stars of the film have fun within their company and the unlucky moviegoers watch an unintentional self-deprecating vehicle that will surely hurt the career of the irritating lead and the other cast members.
He’s Way More Famous Than You is a little of “column A” and a lot of “column B”. The film has a promising start as we see how clingy Feiffer is to the star-tracker, an online counter ranking the popularity of actors. She constantly reminds her boyfriend Michael Chernus (also playing himself) about how important it is for her to be recognized and, at one point, goes as far as to record herself crying after a major blow-up between the frustrated couple.
After Chernus walks out on Feiffer and their relationship as well as an argument between her and her agent, Halley vows to write a head-turning, ground-breaking screenplay that will garner awards and, yes, recognition. She reels in her brother Ryan (played by Ryan Spahn who I’m hoping isn’t playing himself) who then suckers his boyfriend into the director’s chair.
The director of choice is Michael Urie. Urie also directs He’s Way More Famous Than You adding another layer of meta. When Urie directs scenes from Halley and Ryan’s screenplay, he often looks confused and annoyed. Something tells me he didn’t have to dive too deep into his memory to pull out an authentic portrayal of a director wanting to leave a project.
Much like how the exaggerated Feiffer gets wrapped up in binge drinking and movie stars, Feiffer (who co-wrote He’s Way More Famous Than You with Spahn) gets wrapped up in her own production sending the much needed satirical edge and clever meta nods out the window.
He’s Way More Famous Than You reads on screen as one of those movies where the leading cast (sans Urie) were all having fun and forgot to include audiences in on the joke. The writing becomes more blunt and absurd – happily inviting drawn out improvisation into the mix – and the dialogue progressively gets more shouty. It’s as if Feiffer and her gang realized that mugging, screaming, and contorting their faces was a much easier way to generate laughs than to do research about how to stick it to Hollywood.
The script also overdoes it on winking towards the camera and reminding annoyed moviegoers that the production has random stars portraying themselves. Feiffer and Spahn constantly have their characters spouting off the résumé of each actor – as if the people paying to see their movie have never seen a movie before.
The only time I found these reminders helpful was with Chernus. I had recognized Chernus somewhere, but when Halley talked about his work on Men in Black 3, my lightbulb lit up.
However, I found the rest of the blatant in-jokes to be far too obvious and irrelevant. I don’t need to be reminded countless times that Ralph Macchio was in The Karate Kid. And worse, I now understand that Urie plays a gay character on Ugly Betty. I don’t need this fact announced to me multiple times.
It doesn’t help that these big name stars look uncomfortable on camera. They may have been told to act awkward in their roles when sharing the screen with the obnoxious Halley Feiffer, but as a moviegoer, I can sense when Ben Stiller is acting uneasy and when he’s slowly realizing that Envy is no longer the worse thing in his filmography.
Another idea the film suggests is that even though Urie directed He’s Way More Famous Than You and Ryan Spahn co-wrote the screenplay, this is very much the Halley show. During one scene in a restaurant where Feiffer finds out that Macchio could star in her movie within this movie, she collapses on the floor and starts reenacting a scene from The Outsiders – again, an unnecessary reminder that’s beaten into the ground.
Around her are extras in this busy restaurant. About 50% of them are acting while the other half bite their lips and try not to laugh. This isn’t the only occurrence when this happens. When I see this, I get the feeling that no one told Feiffer that she was adding too much to a scene. It was as though everyone felt inclined and pressured to think her comedic sense and timing were both flawless and hilarious.
Meanwhile, the life is being suffocated out of the scene as the pacing lags and the audience waits for Feiffer to get her burst of comedic energy out of her system so the film can go on. For a similar case, see John Asher’s 2005 bomb Dirty Love starring his ex-wife Jenny McCarthy, who also wrote the screenplay. Or better yet, don’t and say you did.
Eventually, some form of the movie within the movie is screened and shows the audience having a merry-old-time watching the product. As past clips from He’s Way More Famous Than You play, the audience roars with laughter. So, as if the movie wasn’t self-deprecating enough, it turns into something much more smug on top of that.
As a result of this movie, Halley Feiffer, you’re more well known. You took the stage and showed audiences what you have to give them. However, maybe you could have used your microphone as less of a megaphone; and maybe then, my appreciation wouldn’t have felt so much like a throbbing headache.