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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: EDtv

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Jenna Elfman
Director: Ron Howard
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 122 Minutes
Release Date: March 1999
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: Woody Harrelson, Sally Kirkland, Martin Landau, Ellen DeGeneres, Rob Reiner, Dennis Hopper, Elizabeth Hurley, Adam Goldberg

Review by Greg King
3 stars out of 4

A man has his life broadcast to an eager television audience, twenty-four hours a day. This premise sounds remarkably similar to last year's brilliant The Truman Show. (It is also a concept that the ABC embraced with its warts-and-all reality-based documentary series Sylvania Waters a decade ago.) Although Edtv may recall The Truman Show, it is actually based on a little known 1994 French/Canadian film entitled Louis 19: Le Roi Des Ondes (Louis 19: King Of The Airwaves). What also separates Edtv from The Truman Show is that, in this comedy, the central character is fully aware of the intrusive presence of the cameras from the start.

Cable station True TV is struggling in the ratings, even being beaten by The Gardening Channel, and the programming executives decide to beef up their image. They decide to follow one ordinary person's life on camera, twenty-four hours a day, live, unrehearsed, unscripted and unedited. Video store clerk Ed Pekurney (Matthew McConaughey, from Lone Star, A Time To Kill, etc) is chosen from the audition tapes, mainly because of his down to earth charm, his sex appeal and his goof ball sense of humour. Unexpectedly, Ed becomes a sensation, and the audience for this reality based family soap opera grows. But under the unflinching scrutiny of the tv cameras, a number of skeletons start rattling out of the Pekurney family closet. Network executives are also only too willing to manufacture events in Ed's life to increase audience interest and thus further boost their ratings.

Ed finds himself initially swept away by the euphoria of his sudden popularity, until he discovers that being a celebrity carries its own baggage. This is a theme that Woody Allen explored with limited success in his recent, occasionally self indulgent Celebrity. Edtv brings irony and cutting wit to its cynical exploration of the intrusive nature of the media, and the powerfully persuasive and seductive nature of fame. This clever film also explores how the media exploits the American public's insatiable desire to know even the most salacious details of the lives of celebrities.

Edtv reunites director Ron Howard with his two favourite writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, who previously wrote Splash and Parenthood for him, but the creative team seem to have stumbled occasionally with their latest collaboration. Howard is usually a director with a keen gift for storytelling combined with astute commercial instincts. Those gifts seem to have deserted him a little here. Howard makes his salient points well enough, but then proceeds to bludgeon them with sledgehammer-like subtlety. Many scenes seem unnecessarily repetitive, and the film could have been tightened up considerably in the editing room. There are also a number of ideas that fall flat and lead nowhere in particular, contributing to the film's bloated look.

As usual, Howard has assembled a top notch cast, who deliver solid performances under his assured direction. McConaughey is very likeable and appealing, and he makes Ed an attractive and sympathetic character. Woody Harrelson delivers a solid performance as Ed's sleazy, narcissistic brother Ray, while Martin Landau and Sally Kellerman (from MASH, etc) lend some much needed sympathy to their roles as Ed's parents. Ellen De Generes is marvellous as Cynthia, the tv executive who develops a conscience, while tv star Jenna Elfman (Dharma And Greg) brings some depth to her role as Shari, Ed's girl friend who finds she cannot handle the pressure of living her life in the media spotlight.

Edtv has a much lighter tone than Peter Weir's similarly themed film, and it will likely appeal more to those audiences who couldn't embrace the concept behind his intelligent and imaginative vision.

Copyright 2000 Greg King

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