A sequel to his 2006 Hollywood Dreams, Henry Jaglom’s Queen of the Lot again stars Tanna Frederick as Maggie, an Iowa-farm-girl-turned-action-starlet-turned-TMZ-staple. In an obvious nod to Lindsay Lohan, a series of DUIs have left this redhead shackled with a location-monitoring ankle bracelet and a dearth of acting work. Sentenced to lounging around other people’s mansions, Maggie wastes her days fretting over the waning interest of douchebag boyfriend Dov (Christopher Rydell), the bad-boy scion of a Hollywood dynasty who may be reuniting with his plastic-perfect estranged wife (Daisy White); wantonly egging on the affections of Dov’s brother Aaron (Noah Wyle), a Brooding Writer With a Secret; and feverishly managing her star persona by taking tea with sycophantic journalists (actual interview question: “Isn’t Dov already married to the dangerously sexy Shaelynn?”), passing out water bottles to the paparazzi, and obsessively self-Googling, reading aloud to Aaron the most hurtful pull quotes from actual reviews of Hollywood Dreams.
Aaron, ostensibly the one cool head in a storm of self-made monsters, wonders, “How can I be attracted to someone so superficial?” To which Maggie exclaims, “You’re attracted to me?!?” Relentless in her pursuit of attention, she ignores the criticism and zeroes in on the flattery. Which is, you know . . . just about right.
If Jaglom’s 40 years in filmmaking have taught him anything, it’s how to craft a certain kind of soft satire on easy targets: In Queen of the Lot, gags about cell phones and eating disorders and how “everyone’s an actor in this town” all seem more or less accurate, but they’re never cutting or revelatory. “This girl is the business now!” someone says of talent-light, “natural” looking, reality-TV-ready Maggie—stating the obvious and turning Queen’s thin subtext into literally stated text.
Wyle’s character is clearly intended as a surrogate for Jaglom and the in-point for the audience, but, in the film’s biggest joke (although it’s not clear if it’s intended to be), he falls so deep under Maggie’s spell that he eventually gives up probing for the there that may or not be there. Love conquers all—or, at least, it magically solves problems ranging from sagging career prospects to suicidal self-hatred to potential mansion foreclosure—and Jaglom’s faith in G-rated romance is, like his patented, constantly zooming camerawork, both kind of defiant and kind of nauseating.
Queen of the Lot is sort of sweet in its earnestness, sort of frustratingly delusional, and ultimately unsubstantial—but there are moments of meta-provocation that almost justify the lopsided enterprise. Come for the subplot wedged in to give Peter Bogdanovich an excuse to explain why no one should ever remake Trouble in Paradise; stay for the absurd image of the aging legend hiding behind a tree, a deer-in-headlights voyeur to the spectacle of an ingenue happily offering herself to a mob of paparazzi.