Factory Girl is the story of the comet-like rise and fall of Edie Sedgwick (Sienna Miller), an elfin Sixties society girl who briefly found fame (or infamy) as part of Andy Warhol's New York clique and who died of a barbiturate overdose at the tragically young age of 28. The root causes of her self-destructive behaviour are hinted at: her aggressive father, Fuzzy (James Naughton), who may have sexually abused her as a child, a brother who committed suicide at Silver Hill, a rehabilitation facility to which his father had sent him, and rich parents who seem to have been only financially, rather than emotionally, available to her. But the scenes with a therapist in Santa Barbara, which frame this film, offer little more than bland pop psychology and the narrative fails to convincingly flesh out the motivating forces behind her escalating drug use and the emotional loneliness that had her, in the end, at the throat.
Edie was already well known in NY high society in January 1965 when she first met Andy Warhol (superbly played by Guy Pearce), but it is the latter who, in this version at least, makes her famous. The factory - his infamous silver-walled loft on 231 East 47th Street - seems to have provided her with a substitute family and an ersatz father, who acted with equal ambivalence towards her in the end. If he wasn't borderline autistic, Warhol was brutally emotionally detached from everything that happened around him and to him ("it's just so much easier to be detached" he says here, knowingly). Edie's unabashed openness and her immediate emotional responses to her experiences seemed to free Warhol, albeit vicariously and fleetingly, from his own highly-controlled, disturbed behaviour. The director George Hickenlooper and screenwriter Captain Mauzner implicitly villainize Warhol for not paying her for her work (he hands her only a 50-dollar bill wrapped in red ribbon) and for abandoning Sedgwick when her drug abuse got out of hand (in the restaurant scene he is passive and unmoved; he simply observes her meltdown).
In contrast, Sienna Miller plays Edie as pure victim, a moth drawn to the white-hot spotlight, who pays for her friends to buy their admiration. Warhol was, according to Hickenlooper and Mauzner, hissily jealous of Edie's flirtations with "a famous 1960s folk singer", who for legal reasons they could not name as Bob Dylan (he threatened to sue for defamation). In the film, this musician (Hayden Christensen) sleeps with Edie - something Dylan himself has disputed - and encourages her to reject the phoniness of the Warhol scene and to recognise her own emotional emptiness ("You're as empty as your friend's soup can," he tells her here, rather glibly). Christensen is made to look startlingly like Dylan did circa 1965, but his impersonation is a bit too slick to be credible (it is - it must be said - a difficult task). Miller, too, looks impressively like Sedgwick and conveys her quirkiness, her mannerisms and her vitality well. But she fails, I think, to convince us of Edie's specific appeal and Sedgwick's emotional fragility and her vulnerability evident in even the coarsest Warhol films remain largely unexpressed. Pearce, on the other hand, plays Warhol with aplomb: with an eerily vacant gaze, Pearce shows how Warhol used Sedgwick as a vicarious mirror, wanting to be or become her rather than simply hang out with her. His narcisstically parasitic behaviour is, in this respect, not unlike that of Truman Capote's in In Cold Blood: vain, self-regarding and ultimately bereft of much humanity.
By pitting the Dylan character against Warhol, the film manufactures a facile opposition between Dylan's world (authenticity) and Warhol's surfaces (artificiality). For Segwick, you feel, life must have been an awful lot more complex than that. Hickenlooper doesn't actually show her drug-fuelled, self-destructive death a year after she left therapy. Instead, we hear comments from her living relatives (a brother) and friends (Richie Berlin) as the credits roll; in their words we finally get a feeling for her charisma, her idiosyncratic gamine beauty and her tragic relationships. These closing comments make you realise how fascinating this biopic, which ultimately comes across as rather superficial and simplifying, could have been.