Published May 1, 2001
Dominique Deruddere’s Everybody’s Famous! (Iedereen Beroemd! in his native Flemish) is a rather charming little movie, though without enough of a sense of detachment from the dream of pop music fame which it otherwise makes fun of. Some will say it is condescending, but I don’t think it condescending enough, at least in this sense. Nothing is easier in the world than poking fun at the eagerness of our contemporaries to become famous, but, like Hollywood “satire,” Mr. Deruddere’s proves quite as star-struck as the simple folk whom it purports to satirize. We get the idea, actually, that the kind of fame they lust after is almost unproblematic, and its presentation of the extraordinary lengths to which they will go to get it is just a case of observing that people are funny.
There is also a sort of continental, left-wing style of politics lurking just beneath the surface of this movie. It holds that bosses typically “exploit” their workers and that, indeed, working in a factory is “hell”—so that anything which provides a man escape from that hell must be OK. “We have the right to take revenge,” says Jean (Josse De Pauw) to his friend Willy (Werner De Smedt), referring to their recent lay-off from a bottling factory. “The bastards threw us out overnight.” The opportunity for revenge—not against the bottlers but against the system in general—comes unexpectedly as Debbie (Thekla Reuten), an attractive young Euro-pop idol to the ever inscrutable Belgians, comes bicycling down the highway alone just as Jean’s old banger breaks down. As Debbie’s real enthusiasm is not music (as we might have guessed anyway from the junk that she sings) but car engines, she stops to help and Jean kidnaps her.
To an American audience, there must be some considerable potential for interest in this material—the image of a pop-star as a lone cyclist on a flat and empty Belgian road, untrammeled by handlers or hangers-on. Maybe, after all, fame is not exactly what Jean—and we—suppose. But Deruddere can’t think of anything to do with it but recycle the highly dubious moral of Notting Hill, which is that celebrities, especially female ones, are really just sweet and lovable girls-next-door who long for normal relationships with regular guys. Nor is it exactly big news that the pop music industry can almost effortlessly repackage even Jean’s unattractive and spectacularly untalented daughter, Marva (Eva van der Gucht), as the next new sensation when such a feat becomes Jean’s ransom demand.
There is a certain charm struggling to break through the carapace of all this sentimentalism and faux cynicism, and Josse De Pauw is a wonderful actor who can make us believe in Jean’s peculiar sort of desperation as few others could. Miss Van der Gucht is also superb in making Marva unattractive, both morally and physically, without making her unsympathetic. The script, also by Mr. Deruddere gives both a fair bit of comic leeway to draw us in. But in the end the meretricious world of pop-stardom, particularly as we are led to believe it exists in Belgium, is just too disgustingly tawdry for us to regard with any patience people who treat it—as everybody in this movie does—as the summit of worldly ambition. Even Debbie, who is obviously intended by nature to be a mechanic and not a chanteuse, is regarded as little more than a joke for giving up being the latter for the former.
But those who share this movie’s dubious values will probably find it entertaining.