Given our current obsession with fame for fame’s sake, the biggest surprise in Everybody’s Famous! is how it’s portrayed as an expression of love.
Jean Vereecken (Josse De Pauw) doesn’t feel he has much to offer his 17-year-old daughter, Marva (Eva Van Der Gucht), except his support. She participates in talent contests on a regular basis in their small Belgian town where singers imitate their favorite artists. Each time Marva wavers uncertainly through a song, Jean and his wife Chantal (Gert Portael) are in the audience supportively cheering her on, even after she receives pathetic scores from unimpressed judges.
The sullen, overweight teenager seems to continually set herself up for heartbreak in these competitions, imitating sexpots she doesn’t resemble (the muscular Madonna or the skeletal Vanessa Paradis) and then performing with little passion. Jean, who named his only child after a Flemish pop star, can’t understand why no one can see her inborn talent: the clear, lovely voice Marva uses when she performs in a children’s puppet show.
The characters of Everybody’s Famous! seem stuck in a perpetual cycle of failure until writer-director Dominique Deruddere begins to shake things up in fascinating ways. Jean’s numbing working life — as an inspector at a bottle factory — is enlivened by his friendship with co-worker Willy Van Outreve (Werner De Smedt), a dim bulb who admires his songwriting abilities (Jean incessantly hums his compositions into a tape recorder). After losing his job, a distraught Jean unexpectedly encounters the pop star Debbie (Thekla Reuten) and promptly kidnaps her, holding her hostage in a remote cabin with the assistance of the eager-to-please Willy.
Deruddere, who has adapted the work of cult American writers Charles Bukowski (Love Is A Dog From Hell) and John Fante (Wait Until Spring, Bandini), takes a dark theme — the destructive nature of celebrity worship — and creates a relentlessly cheery, light-hearted satire in the vein of John Waters’ Cecil B. DeMented (they share an improbably positive outlook on kidnapping). He sends up media manipulation with aplomb, and expertly shows just how much American culture — our most successful export — permeates a country like Belgium. It’s a sobering reminder that American performers (the visage of Michael Jackson makes several witty appearances) often become global icons.
Yet after establishing a specific satirical tone, Deruddere takes a very different path. What Jean asks for in exchange for Debbie’s release isn’t money, but the chance to make his daughter a star. He isn’t simply a stage father who craves vicarious fame: Jean actually wants to create a situation where Marva will thrive, where her own special qualities will be recognized by a world which previously treated her only with scorn and derision.
The happy ending Dominique Deruddere concocts will seem like a cop-out for those who appreciate the dark satire of Network or Bamboozled. But it aptly illustrates the marvelous Oscar Wilde line quoted by Michael (Victor Löw), Debbie’s master-manipulator manager: Turn your fart into thunder.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Maple Art Theater (4135 W. Maple, W of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at email@example.com.