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‘Factory Girl’ is a paint-by-numbers biopic

Sienna Miller gives a great performance, but the movie doesn't live up to her.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Sienna Miller remains an actress in search of a movie worthy of her talent.

“Alfie” wasn’t it, though from the minute Miller burst into the film she grabbed hold of every scene she was in. “Layer Cake” showcased her as an alluring sex kitten, but that was really Daniel Craig’s movie after all. “Casanova” came close, allowing her to cast off her glamorous image in favor of full frocks and a meaty role.

In “Factory Girl,” Miller appears in nearly every scene as Edie Sedgwick, the old-money socialite who became Andy Warhol’s doomed muse. She can be dazzling, vulnerable, childlike, narcissistic, but always riveting to watch. (And, as you’d imagine, the leggy fashionista wears Sedgwick’s signature mod style fabulously).

But while she gives a raw, vibrant performance, the one we’ve long suspected was in her, she’s consistently hampered by the film’s clunky script.

Director George Hickenlooper (“Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse”) falls into the same unfortunate trap so many do in trying to tell the story of a famous person’s life: He hits the best-known moments, recreating them with all the convincing detail of a giant game of dress-up, but provides little insight.

“Factory Girl” also feels frustratingly truncated. It’s the rare film that’s not long enough, not substantive enough. It’s as if Hickenlooper knew it, too: Over the closing credits, he features talking-head interviews with people (former denizens of Warhol’s studio, the Factory, for example) who go on to explain Sedgwick’s significance, because everything that came before clearly failed to do so sufficiently.

Miller, meanwhile, is stuck saturating the film with voice-over about the time (New York in the mid-’60s) and the people (Warhol’s menagerie of artists and outcasts) in Sedgwick’s brief life. (The script comes from Captain Mauzner, who also co-wrote “Wonderland” about porn star John Holmes, and Aaron Richard Golub.)

She tells us things that are insultingly obvious (“Andy took ordinary objects and made them iconic”), cliched (“Andy was a little boy who needed to be taken care of”) and sometimes just plain cringeworthy (“To me, New York was Jackson Pollock sipping vodka and dripping paint over a raw canvas”).

The paint-by-numbers “Factory Girl” follows Sedgwick’s rise from aspiring art student to the toast of Manhattan, then her subsequent fall. She comes to the city aspiring to be Holly Golightly (and hoping to escape her dysfunctional, abusive family) but once she meets Warhol, she becomes a superstar all her own — a pioneer of being famous simply for being famous, decades before Paris Hilton.

She appears in a few of Warhol’s movies; the recreation of filming “Beauty No. 2” provides a rare disturbing moment. But mostly she goes to parties and gallery openings where she’s consistently photographed on Warhol’s arm, and she blows through her trust fund supporting his creations.

Guy Pearce is detached and creepy as the artist but we don’t come away understanding him any better than we do Sedgwick. Jimmy Fallon is fine in a rare dramatic role as the gay friend who introduces Sedgwick and Warhol, with Mena Suvari playing another of Warhol’s wealthy hangers-on.

Hayden Christensen, meanwhile, shows up in the second half billed only as “Musician,” though he’s clearly intended to function as the Bob Dylan figure in the film. Mainly he does a bad, breathy Dylan accent, but he and Miller do share a warmly photographed love scene.

Being torn between these two towering cultural figures tears Sedgwick apart, but her spiral from recreational drug user to full-blown addict happens in the blink of an eye.

That may be appropriate in telling the story of a young woman who died of an overdose at 28 — and whose short life line on her palm warned her of her fate early on — but that doesn’t make it satisfying.