‘Paparazzo’ smart, energetic

KEVIN WILLIAMSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:14 AM ET

It sounds as appealing as being chased by hordes of frenzied, spittle-spewing paparazzi.

Namely, a documentary about celebrity culture directed by an actor who's famous for playing someone famous; he even reverses roles with the very shutterbugs who usually stalk him.

At best, it might be infantile -- at worst, nauseating. Remember the Mel Gibson-produced thriller Paparazzi, in which a square-jawed action star goes all Charles Bronson on his flashbulb-popping pursuers? So the surprise of Teenage Paparazzo is that Entourage's Adrian Grenier has made a film that's shrewd, energetic, thoughtful and genuine in its attempt to decipher the appeal of -- and psychology behind -- fame, as well as decode the industry that it sustains.

It's neither a self-serving hit job on the "paps" nor a finger-wagging plea for privacy.

Grenier -- whose first documentary, 2002's Shot in the Dark, followed him as he searched for his biological father -- seems sincere about wanting to understand, not just the symbiotic relationship between stars and the intrusive industry that surrounds them, but why the public is so compelled by the often vapid lives of absolute strangers.

Of course, Grenier could have used his own experiences as a launching point for his movie. Instead, he was inspired by an encounter with then-13-year-old Austin Visschedyk, an aspiring adolescent paparazzo, who spends his nights scouring the streets of Los Angeles for fortune-making photos of actors and pop stars doing, well, anything.

Eventually, Grenier is dovetailing the teen's story with interviews with such celebutantes as Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan -- who, one assumes, Grenier has greater access to than most documentarians would. (Nor do they have anything to fear in Grenier, who doesn't use the opportunity to skewer them; if you're expecting Hilton to be eviscerated, you'll be disappointed.)

From there, Grenier casts his net wider, incorporating the opinions of other actors, including Matt Damon, as well as those of journalists and academics.

And as Visschedyk's own star rises, Grenier is left to puzzle over his own participation in the kid's burgeoning, possibly troubling, notoriety.

True, none of the insights will stun rabid celebrity followers. For those who can't get enough of TMZ or even Entourage, for example, Teenage Paparazzo won't tell you anything you don't already know or suspect. Nor does it approach the Charlie Kaufman-level of subversive, reality-bending absurdity it hints at.

But for audiences intrigued by, if not addicted to, stardom's nature, Grenier's film proves an entertaining, satisfying excursion. Consider it a beginner's course in the Hollywood machine -- appropriately so, after all, given the age of its subject.

(This film is rated 14A)

kevin.williamson@sunmedia.ca


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