He’s Way More Famous Than You is a self-parodying examination of celebrity and stardom, tracking the lengths a fading indie starlet takes to stake her claim in show business. It blends autobiography, fiction and farce with a number of actors playing themselves and other characters simultaneously.
Co-written by and starring Halley Feiffer, the film opens in a flashback to the 2005 world premiere of The Squid and the Whale—Noah Baumbach’s “cinematic masterpiece” (as we’re reminded by the onscreen titles). It’s the film that should have automatically opened the doors to fame and fortune for Feiffer, who played a small role in the film. She’s joined on the red carpet by one of The Squid and the Whale’s leads, Jesse Eisenberg, who in turn, plays a small, but pivotal character in He’s Way More Famous Than You.
In a study in contrasts, it’s Eisenberg’s career trajectory that’s eluded Feiffer. While he’s gone on to star in The Social Network and Zombieland among other films, she’s been mostly relegated to supporting characters or guest roles on episodic television. As the film-within-a-film unfolds, we understand why.
Feiffer’s developed a nasty Moët for breakfast, beer for lunch and vodka for dinner habit in the seven years after The Squid and the Whale. She’s self-centered and irksome, and both her boyfriend and her agent drop her posthaste. Desperate to right her career path, Feiffer steals the script idea that she and her ex-boyfriend were co-writing and enlists her brother, Ryan (Ryan Spahn), and her brother’s partner (Michael Urie) to co-star in and direct (respectively) her comeback.
In a meta-twist, Urie—referred to throughout the film as “that gay guy from Ugly Betty”—also directs He’s Way More Famous Than You. It’s Urie who exasperatedly plays the voice of reason to Feiffer’s on- and off-camera follies.
The script-within-the-script storyline is a bit convoluted, so we’ll try and keep things as simple as possible: Ryan, her brother, plays Halley’s ex-boyfriend (at least until she can get someone higher profile like Ralph Macchio to co-star); Natasha Leone plays herself and Halley’s AA sponsor; even Ben Stiller makes a cameo appearance as someone the executive producer has stolen from and eventually kidnaps to finance the Halley Feiffer project.
Feiffer’s character is a back-stabbing onset diva, which is never a good move for an A-lister, let alone a minor leaguer. She’ll stop at nothing to finish the film, even it means hurting the people who care about her. There are already squeamishly incestuous implications with having your brother play your boyfriend, but it’s only one of many absurd moments in the film.
While on some level, He’s Way More Famous Than You successfully skewers the cult of celebrity and the entertainment business, it ultimately marginalizes itself from the audience because of the un-likability of the leading character. Feiffer’s alcoholic alter ego chases fame more than the art. She grates on her co-stars’ and crew’s—and audience’s—last nerve. In contrast, Natasha Lyonne’s no-nonsense character (or perhaps true-life persona) elicits much more empathy in her brief onscreen time. The other high-profile guest appearances by Macchio, Stiller, Mamie Gummer and others ultimately can’t save the film from itself.
In fact, it’s Michael Urie as the onscreen director who tells Halley exactly what’s wrong with her vanity project and her life: “Celebrities don’t make a movie great. Heart is what makes a movie great. And you have no heart.”
Despite a few good moments of comic satire in He’s Way More Famous Than You, Urie’s assessment is a stinging sentiment that rings true for the real film, too.
Director: Michael Urie
Writers: Halley Feiffer, Ryan Spahn
Starring: Halley Feiffer, Michael Urie, Ryan Spahn, Tracee Chimo, Natasha Lyonne, Ralph Macchio, and Mamie Gummer, Jesse Eisenberg, Ben Stiller
Release Date: May 10, 2013