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Edtv (1999) March 31, 2005

Posted by Dragan Antulov in Film Reviews.
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A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

We live in really interesting times. What only few years ago looked like the plot worthy of futuristic satire is now prosaic reality. And, to make things even more interesting, some aspects of today’s prosaic reality were indeed subject of Hollywood movies which now look prophetic. Being prophetic and being good, however, are two different things, which could be seen in EDTV, 1999 comedy directed by Ron Howard.

The plot of the film begins with True TV, cable station which is in deep financial trouble and whose director Whitaker (played by Rob Reiner) will accept any idea in order to push ratings back up. One such idea comes from scruples producer Cynthia Tapping (played by Ellen De Generes). She proposes that a station picks an ordinary man and sets up camera team that would record his every move for 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Whitaker agrees and Ed Pekurny (played by Matthew McConaughey), humble but charming video store clerk from Texas, is picked among many candidates. At first, the show is utterly boring, but everything changes when Ed visits his brother Ray (played by Woody Harelson) and wins heart of Ray’s girlfriend Shari (played by Jenna Elfman). The show suddenly becomes big hit and Ed turns into media superstar. Yet, after a while, constant presence of cameras and lack of privacy causes the break of his relationship with Shari. Ed wants to end the show, but the greedy studio executives aren’t willing to give up their cash cow.

When it premiered, EDTV was compared with THE TRUMAN SHOW, another film trying to explore what insatiable appetite of voyeuristic public combined with modern technology could do to individual’s privacy and dignity. The comparisons were usually in favour of THE TRUMAN SHOW – that film had much more intelligent and original script, better basic idea and plenty of room to mix some serious philosophy with comedy. EDTV, based on 1994 Canadian film LOUIS 19, LE ROI DES ONDES, has somewhat simpler concept – person who, unlike protagonist of THE TRUMAN SHOW, knows that he is being subject of reality show – but it nevertheless had plenty of satirical potential.

Unfortunately, scriptwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel weren’t exactly sure whether they are making satire or nothing more than simple “high concept” romantic comedy. EDTV is best in the very beginning, when protagonist still haven’t met his love interest and the film looks like it could be the former. When love interest appears, movie quickly starts to deteriorate despite all the charm and talent of Jenna Elfman. The ending is especially disappointing when one of characters suddenly gets a unexplainable change of heart and provides unsatisfying and unconvincing deus ex machine plot resolution. Fact that most jokes in the film aren’t particularly funny doesn’t help either and only the talented and diverse cast – with many respectable actors in small roles – prevents EDTV from becoming complete failure.

But the worst problem for EDTV is in its satirical content becoming obsolete due to real life. Only few months after this film’s premiere Dutch TV station aired very first instalment of BIG BROTHER, reality show combining concepts of THE TRUMAN SHOW and EDTV. This was followed by flood of diverse reality shows that forever changed not only television, but the entire concepts of entertainment industry and media in today’s world. And it turned out that the creators of those shows were more imaginative than their fictional counterparts in EDTV.

RATING: 4/10 (+)

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