Viktor Taransky is an Oscar-winning director whose last couple of films tanked. And in the ruthless, get-‘em-into-the-theater atmosphere of Hollywood, "decorated" and "awarded" don’t mean a thing unless it happened this morning. Taransky’s current project, Sunrise Sunset, is almost finished when its ultra-diva star, Nicola Anders, walks off the set, suing the bewildered director for breach of contract (her trailer isn’t bigger than everyone else’s) and forcing him to purge her from every frame of the film. Taransky soon finds out how last-month’s flavor he is when he can’t even get C-list actresses to step into Anders’ role. He’s a director without respect, bankrupt and finished.
But that’s before Simone.
A string of ones and zeros stored on a computer hard drive, Simone is a gift of incalculable value. Taransky uses her digital image over the top of Anders’ unusable one, and releases the film to wild applause. Insiders, critics and moviegoers alike love this unknown actress with the perfect hair, sensual lips and glowing personality. She’s a star. Using computer trickery, Taransky has Simone do press conferences, the talk show circuit and even a live stadium concert of her newly released music. That’s when things begin to go wrong. . . .
positive elements: Simone pokes wry fun at the cult of celebrity: America’s obsession with it, and Hollywood’s creation of it. "Our ability to manufacture fraud exceeds our ability to detect it," says Taransky. He’s talking about his digital woman, but the implications are far wider than that. Even better, the film takes the next step and decries our unwillingness to care whether something is real or not. "It’s a phony-baloney world," Taransky tells Simone. "You’re more authentic than all these people who worship you. And that’s the problem."
On a less philosophic note, Simone also shines a light on the value of an intact family. Taransky is divorced from studio head Elaine Christian. Undaunted, their daughter, Lainey, keeps rooting for them to get back together. As do you while watching the film. Elaine is convinced that her ex will never pick her over the perfect Simone. And the script carefully studies whether she’s right or not.
There’s also a sense here of, "Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it." Taransky creates Simone out of selfish ambition to satiate his starving ego. The results are ultimately not to his liking.
nudity and sexual content: Simone doesn’t have any hang-ups about nudity. She’s digital, after all. She is therefore seen posing nude on a couple of occasions. For example, she’s seen on the cover of Playboy, and the artwork for her music CD has her sitting nude, her limbs barely concealing "sensitive areas." She also frequently wears revealing blouses. Elaine pounces on Taransky in one scene, and the two roll about, kissing passionately. Simone’s body-double seduces Taransky (not that’s he’s all that reluctant) and the pair tangle it up until she reveals that she’s only attracted to him because she thinks he is sleeping with Simone. Fortunately, that puts a damper on things for Taransky. A tabloid reporter, infatuated with Simone, writhes around on a hotel bed he believes she slept in. He also fondles the lingerie that is lying around the room. A picture is seen of a nude statue.
violent content: A gunshot goes off in one of Taransky’s movies (no blood, but a character falls down). A mob of people knock down a woman they think is Simone.
crude or profane language: One s-word and a handful of milder expressions. Jesus’ name is used as an exclamation twice. "God" is misused a half-dozen times.
drug and alcohol content: Taransky smokes and drinks. Nicola and Simone also smoke. Others drink socially.
other negative elements: A man kisses a toothbrush after it’s fallen in the toilet (he thinks it is Simone’s).
conclusion: Having written and produced The Truman Show, and written and directed Gattaca, Andrew Niccol has positioned himself as a filmmaker with something to say. This is not a man given to fluff. Simone proves true to form, but its execution is weak around the edges. The story is more predictable and the character development less compelling than in Truman and Gattaca. On a techie note, it’s exceedingly difficult to suspend disbelief while watching a self-described computer illiterate (Taransky) blithely mold the CG image, motions and speech of a human woman. Not to mention it only takes him nine months to fully flesh her out. Sure, I get the symbolism, but one man plus nine months does not a digital human make. Especially when he’s using computer equipment more reminiscent of the early ’90s than 2002. A key scene actually has him confidently accessing an ancient 5 1/4 inch floppy disk. One can barely store a phone number on those disposable coasters, much less super-high tech surrealism. You can be sure the real guys over at BUF, Inc., Grey Matter and Blackbox Digital (the companies responsible for the film’s visual effects) were using much cooler machines than were shown on the screen. Why didn’t somebody speak up and tell Niccol it looked dated and silly?
That bit of criticism aside, Simone is an entertaining journey (it’s not Pacino’s crowning achievement, but it’s not underwhelming either) and a reasonably clever morality tale that directs the majority of its barbs at celebrity hounds. "You have to realize digital work is done to real actors now," Niccol says. "I’ve done it to actors in my films—such as erasing unsightly blemishes, making limbs smaller or an actor’s girth narrower, even face replacement if needed. . . . There are a lot more digital tricks being used today than audiences realize. Very soon we will reach a point when we switch on a television or a computer, see an actor or newscaster, and not know if they are flesh and blood and what’s more . . . not care." Well said, Mr. Niccol.