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Drifting off in Jaglom's 'Hollywood'

Tanna Frederick (with Melissa Leo, left, as her aunt) plays a struggling actress in Henry Jaglom's "Hollywood Dreams." (RAINBOW FILM CO.)

Among knowledgeable moviegoers, the phrase "a Henry Jaglom film" invokes either wary curiosity or full-blown flight reflex. Jaglom has been making his small, personal, self-funded, outrageously self-indulgent movies for so long that he bridges several eras: the New Hollywood of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the indie boom of the mid-1980s, the corporate art-house resurgence of the late 1990s. Whether you think of him as a Left Coast Woody Allen or a poor man's Robert Altman , the guy just won't go away.

Which is a good thing. We need our mavericks, no matter how maddening. "Hollywood Dreams ," Jaglom's latest, isn't his best (that would probably be 1985's "Always " or 1987's "Someone to Love "), but it's probably his most cynical, which is a change of pace for this most pie-in-the-sky of Malibu optimists.

"Dreams" also features Tanna Frederick -- the latest in a long line of Jaglom protegees -- in, hands-down, the most irritating performance of the year. That's the point, though: Her character, Margie Chizek , is a struggling Hollywood actress with the qualities it takes to succeed in LA: raging self-absorption, a knack for hysterics, and around-the-clock denial.

Margie, who's such a dreadful actress she gets fired from a kids' home video, is a mess blessed with a lucky streak. Kicked out of an apartment share and reduced to living in her car, she's taken in by producers Kaz (Zack Norman ) and Caesar (David Proval ), partners in business and life. Where we see nails-on-chalkboard annoyance they see promise, and they bunk her in their cottage with another of their projects, a handsome actor named Robin (Justin Kirk ).

In one of the few movie-industry punches that Jaglom lands, Robin is straight pretending to be gay, since that facilitates his career more than the other way around. "If you reveal you're not gay, people in this town are going to hate you," he's warned, but still he falls hard for Margie, a believability stretch the movie simply can't pull off. Not when she's trying to get him to wear women's lingerie, chattering about Esther Williams , coming on to a Big Star (Eric Roberts ), or acting delusional about her kid brother, who apparently has seen too many Tennessee Williams plays.

A Jaglom movie's always of interest for who turns up in it, and in addition to Roberts and Proval, you'll find Karen Black , badly winging her role as a diva acting teacher, and Melissa Leo , sounding a note of sanity as Margie's aunt from Ohio. They're mostly obliterated by Frederick's intentionally overbearing performance, which reaches the height of incisive cruelty when Margie pleasures herself to her first press notices.

There's some ugly truth in that. It takes a good actress to play a bad one, though , and Frederick doesn't yet have the skill to make Margie less than a full-frontal assault. Nor does Jaglom have the directorial chops, even after 35 years of making movies, to create characters who seem real rather than improvised. (The gay producers, in particular, are cartoons.)

"Hollywood Dreams" is meant to be an insider's tale, but it feels like it comes from the cinema of hangers-on. Presumably Jaglom has lived in Hollywood long enough to know plenty of real-life Margies, but doesn't he understand why so few of them make it into movies?

Ty Burr can be reached at For more on movies, go to movies/blog.


Hollywood Dreams

Written and directed by: Henry Jaglom

Starring: Tanna Frederick , Justin Kirk , Zack Norman , David Proval , Karen Black , Melissa Leo , Eric Roberts

At: Kendall Square

Running time: 101 minutes

Rated: R (strong sexuality)