The opening montage of smog-covered hills, pictures from a photo album, faintly menacing palm trees and freeways immediately lets you know where this movie is headed - down the boulevard of broken dreams, to where the streets have no name, past the point of no return.
We're talking Hollywood, babe, which, even if you haven't read The Day of the Locust or seen Mulholland Falls, you know is an eat-'em-up, spit-'em-out jungle. The victim this time is Jana, a bottled-blonde, never-was wannabe who spends her days auditioning for parts in B-minus movies and her evenings workings as a hostess in a scuzzy lounge.
At 40, the zaftig Jana (April Telek) should leave the pack-it-in girdles and the push-'em-out bras in her drawers. Instead, she determinedly holds to the delusion she's "taking her career in a different direction" even as humiliation begets humiliation and the bottom steadily rises to catch her fall.
Alberta-born first-time director Katrin Bowen keeps the pot boiling for Amazon Falls' 85 minutes - it reportedly draws on Bowen's own experiences as a teenage innocent in Hollywood. And Telek, a former Miss Canada, delivers a courageous, excruciatingly watchable performance as the doomed actress. Winning, too, are Zak Santiago and William Davis as, respectively, the feckless, cocaine-addled boyfriend and the creepy "sugar daddy" who offers Jana a way out - and down.
Yet for all this intensity, the film is largely an exercise in déjà vu with a whole lot of schadenfreude goin' on . The low-cost circumstances of its creation (a tiny $50,000 budget, only 12 days of shooting and Burnaby having to stand in as L.A.) give it a suitably grotty "gloss" - Bowen's characters, after all, will never get a table at Dan Tana's. But you'd like to think more money and more time might have made Amazon Falls a better movie.
- Directed by Katrin Bowen
- Written by Curry Hitchborn
- Starring April Telek, Anna Mae Routledge, Zak Santiago, William B. Davis, Gabrielle Rose
- Classification: 14A
Amazon Falls plays Toronto Friday through Mar. 24 and Vancouver Apr. 15-22.