An earnest spume from the post-Linklater, neo–brat pack known as Young Hollywood, I Love Your Work promises with its very title to be self-conscious, self-deprecating, self-glorifying, and self-mockingly witty. (The word used in studio meetings is “smart.”) After all, if budding movie stars need to buttress their shaky-giraffe-calf careers with high-minded indies, why can’t the films at least plunge into the very navels in question? Director Adam Goldberg (the galvanizing nebbish-titan from Dazed and Confused, Saving Private Ryan, and The Hebrew Hammer) sets us up for a sardonic look-see inside the ego mill: Giovanni Ribisi stars as Gray Evans, a super-hot, up-‘n’-coming thesp flash-married to an equally famous hottie (Franka Potente) and suffering the shakes of a miserable paranoid meltdown. Thronged by every manner of eager fan, industry leech, and staff peon (including Jared Harris’s outrageously Russian security expert), Gray is a sullen, impulsive pill who, in the film’s primary turnaround, latches himself onto a relaxed and modest video store clerk (Joshua Jackson) and hankers for the low-rent, happy lifestyle the knit-sweater guy shares with his supportive girlfriend (Marisa Coughlan).
Goldberg’s scenario (co-written with Adrian Butchart) is particularly interested in stalker-phobia—as if the scant handful of obsessive predators caught and prosecuted in the last few years suggests a universal condition for Beverly Hills illuminati. Encouraged to curl into himself like a torpid land snail, Ribisi has little to work with, except cigarettes, the lighting and smoking of which must make up a full third of the film’s running time. The hero’s perspective, a deranged mishmash of movie clichés and mystery dates (Christina Ricci and Nicky Katt appear in daydreams), messes up the narrative line, but despite this ripe framework and the talent on deck, ILYW is not a satire. (Props, however, go to the bubbly gofer asking, “Need anything else? Fruit leather?”) Rather, it becomes a cold-serious, dead-air brood about how tough, lonely, and desolate it is being a celebrity. Even Gray’s apartment, a modern/industrial cave of cement and chrome, cries out for hugs. This kind of thing lurched up my windpipe when Bob Seger and Journey were bellyaching about rock-god road trips in the ’70s. Here, it’s a walking, talking demonstration of exactly the same teary narcissism that gets Gray into his psychotic pickle to begin with. Sucks that bad, go flip burgers.