Ziegfeld Girl (1941)


Original plot
Judy Garland, Lana Turner and Hedy Lamarr melt all over an episode of Lawrence Welk while Jimmy Stewart goes full New Yorker.

Big changes
The rise and downfall (literally) of celebrity is apparently timeless, but an elevator girl notsomuch.

The Random Remake
Sequel! Geoffrey Collis (Ron Livingston) works for the now aging Florence Ziegfeld, the latest in a long line of an entertainment management company that started on stage and had a heyday in movies before losing much of their money, and importance, after a string of high-budget flops. Desperate to remain relevant, Ziegfeld started a cheap TV production outfit that, tracking the rise of reality TV, now is one of the most influential and prolific producers of trash TV. Needless to say, the shows she produces make instant stars out of the everyday people plucked to be on the shows. Collis is hunting for fresh meat when he stumbles upon Sheila Regan (Juno Temple) at a nightclub. He’s tracked Regan through her erratic social media profile, where she posts updates about herself acting crazy at high-profile events (we see this through a montage). Collis wants to develop a show about Regan, “The Regan Years,” and she’s not at all surprised that he does. “Actually, I take that back – I am surprised. That it’s taken this long,” she says.

Next we see Collis again on the hunt. This time he’s at a comedy club catching a stand-up act by Susan Gallagher (Anna Kendrick). Susan is wry, self-deprecating and incorporates singing and dancing into her comedy bits. She’s the next Zooey Deschanel! Susan is reluctant – she knows Ziegfeld Media is trash – but her father tells her to do it, reasoning that any publicity is good publicity when you’ve decided to become an entertainer. He should know, he’s a part-time mine and street performer.

Collis is rounding out the talent search and goes to see Frank Kolter (Bobby Moynihan), who has pitched him a series about him and his buddies pulling public pranks (he calls it “Pranks with Frank”). This is flash-mobs, crap like that. Meeting with Frank is boring, but his klutzy wife, Sandra (Isla Fisher), catches Collis’s eye and he calls her over to talk. Sandra is captivating, and it turns out her home is like a rescue shelter because of all the abandoned pets she takes in (Frank refers to the hobby crassly, Collis is amused). Collis offers her a test pilot, and Susan remarks that she’s not terribly comfortable flying a plane.

Here we track the productions. Sheila’s hits early and is an instant hit. She has a massive following, and is being seduced (literally and figuratively) by the big money men of Los Angeles. This is irritating to her former boy-toy/hanger-on/plaything Gil (Dax Shepard), a low-level production assistant on a network sitcom whom she tosses aside when she hits it big. Susan’s show starts slow, and she’s talented but uncomfortable in front of the camera. She keeps going to her dad for reassurance and advice, some funny/tender moments not captured by the reality cameras. Sandra is a savant, and her show is a niche success, which Frank isn’t so happy with. He still does his (poorly received) pranks while the production of the show edges him out of his own home.

After a while, Sheila is kind of a wreck. She’s ever-demanding on everyone in her life – the TV crew, her friends (the ones left at least) and anyone she runs across. The producers make an episode of her boorish behavior and it becomes a sensation and parodies of her attitude are everywhere. Sheila sees herself for what she’s become, that she’s lost herself in a cloud of character, and she quits the show. She finds Gil, toiling away running coffee for the network show, and reunites with him. “Aren’t you that bitch from TV,” someone snidely remarks to her as she’s in Gil’s arms. “Yep. And don’t you forget it,” Gil replies.

Sandra turns her modest success into a gig overseeing Hollywood productions to ensure animals are treated fairly. The cameras are still following her as she visits movie and TV sets, where she gets along better with the animals than she does the famous actors who recognize her. On the set of one sitcom she’s nurturing an actor dog when she hears the producers frantically yelling that they’ve auditioned 20 actors but can’t find the right “screwball next-door neighbor” type needed for the show. Sandra speaks up and tells them her Frank would be perfect. At that exact moment, Frank has his cellphone out doing a selfie video prank pretending he’s a member of craft services and that all he brought was bagels. It’s stupid – and the producers love it.

Susan is retreating further into her family, and the producers have run out of storylines to tell. The crew then starts to film her and her dad together and boom! the footage is a hit. Soon the whole family stars in a show, “Gallagher’s Travels” about their comedy tour and her father becomes an eccentric sensation – much to his daughter’s delight. Collis signs the whole family to a new show.

The pitch
Ziegfeld Girl: It’s about to get reality

Next up: Dishonored Lady (1947)


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