Dances with Films Review: Actor for Hire, by Chase Beck
Androgenic alopecia, or male pattern baldness, affects up 70% of men, and, according to Actor For Hire, exactly one down-on-his-luck, struggling-to-make-it-in-Hollywood actor. For Jesse (Jesse O’Neill), life is just one casting call disappointment after another, that is, until he pawns his laptop for enough money to buy a wig. Soon, Jesse finds that a full head of hair opens doors to him that he had never imagined before. If all of this sounds familiar to you, it is because The Simpsons did an episode on it back in 1990 titled “Simpson and Delilah”, but then again, with a series run of 26 seasons, I would imagine that just about every story ever told has been an episode of The Simpsons by now so, Actor For Hire has plenty of room to walk without retreading old ground.
The baldness theme of the film thankfully (and rightfully) takes a backseat to a more serious storyline. Ultimately, Actor For Hire depicts various moments in the life of struggling Hollywood entertainers. As an audience we see Jesse’s awkwardness during drug-fueled costume parties, his confusion when acting on a set composed entirely of green screen backdrops, and his distraction at playing off of a stand-in while lines are being read to him from off camera. To his credit, writer/director Marcus Mizelle manages to approach the class system that exists in the Hollywood entertainment industry without succumbing to too many of the pitfalls associated with such a topic.The main pitfalls being those countless films that have come before that do the exact same thing. There are perhaps too many such films to list but Barton Fink, Bowfinger, Get Shorty, Ed Wood, In A World, and countless others spring to mind.
Over the course of the film, Jesse meets interesting and colorful characters in Jandres (Jandres Burgos), Najee (Najee De-Tiege), and Greg (Greg Perrow). Actor For Hire is centered around that old trope of the Snowball lie, two characters having a relationship based on a little white lie that leads to more complex and elaborate contrivances until a reckoning occurs. Thankfully, I found that Mizelle handled this in a more realistic manner than most. Ultimately though, in my opinion, the film manages to feel long and slow. The various characters were perhaps the most interesting parts of the film. Unfortunately they are trapped in staid, expository scenes that belabor the film’s main plot. There are a few interesting interludes, one involving a retelling of events in the style of a ‘40’s film noir and another that I will not detail here in order to maintain the surprise in the film.
Actor For Hire clocks in at just under 90 minutes but, with the exception of the last fifteen minutes can feel like a veritable eternity. However, the payoff of the end of the film can only be appreciated after suffering through the first 75 minutes. Marketed as a comedy, I found the film light-hearted but not exactly funny. I also found it all too convenient that Jesse did not meet a single individual over the course of the entire film that dealt with the same, bare-pated condition as Jesse. Hair-raising gimmicks aside, Actor For Hire is a middle of the road film. However, I suppose it deserves some credit for being able to present a predictable story in an unpredictable way. I feel that writer/director Marcus Mizelle shows genuine moments of promise and would be quite pleased to see his future filmic endeavors.