2016 Best Narrative Film Marfa Film Festival
review – me
At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, writers Jefrey Levy and Susan Traylor have created a veritable masterpiece of schizophrenic cinema with their disarmingly titled film Me. Featuring perhaps one of the least reliable narrators to grace the screen in the last 50 years, our ostensible protagonist is the disheveled lump of a reality television producer, Levy. Locked away in a secluded mansion, and draping himself in the manner of the nouveau riche, Levy has become convinced that he is the centerpiece of a hit reality television show. However, he’s also come to the conclusion that ratings are down and enlists the aid of his friend Susan to help right the ship, so to speak. For her part, Susan has just come off a failed pilot for an “amalgamated animal” show and is eager to take on a new job.
Sensing that Levy has basically come off the rails, Susan opportunistically pounces and decides to set up her own reality show in order to capitalize on Levy’s fame and delusional state. She pitches this idea to “network” in the form of David (Sam Trammell), who after a bit of cajoling, agrees to the idea. We come to discover among Levy’s many idiosyncrasies, that he is crass, lonely and quite a fantastic hypochondriac. And, as we are engrossed with the spectacle of Levy, the filmmakers perform a feat of cinematic magic and plunk you right down in the seat of the protagonist. It’s not that they break the fourth wall, but rather that they sneak up behind you and box you in with the damn thing. Dear reader, once you are in Levy’s world, it’s a whole other matter to find your way back out, and that’s if you even realize you slipped down the rabbit hole to begin with.
In the midst of the chaos, we are met with a parade of actors of the highest caliber, but yet, none of them are ever what they seem. That is, except for the fact that they are, at all times, exactly what they seem. I don’t mean to be cryptic here, but it very much bears on the story at hand. For example, about half-way through the film, we find the ultra talented Gina Gershon arriving to Susan’s reality show set dressed as Lady Gaga. Later, Susan tells “network” David that it’s not really Gina, but an impersonator, hired to help boost ratings. In fact Susan says, the real Ms. Gershon wouldn’t even return her calls. All the while, Levy is outside having a grand old time with the Gina Gershon impersonator — played by Gina Gershon.
It is this really fun twist on reality that makes Me such a joy to watch. As we get carried along by the whirling current, one starts to wonder if it’s even Levy’s world to begin with. As Susan struggles to keep ratings up on her newly minted hit reality show, she slips further along into her own brand of madness. She relentlessly pushes and pulls and tugs at Levy, trying to get him to go this way and that, but something or someone always seems to confound her grand schemes. Rather than be defeated though, she simply reshapes her view of reality to make it all work, much as any madman (or madwoman) might when confronted with an intractable or unlikely barrier. In a sense, this sums the genius of the film, as what is required of Susan to complete her quest is much the same as that required of the viewer.
Which is to say, that we just accept the reality we see and move along with it. It’s not until later, when it’s calm and we can think straight, that we realize we never saw the network. Or the studio. Or anything to truly give us a firm footing to stand upon in our reality. The brilliance is that, in the end, we never really knew who was who, and what was what, almost like madmen ourselves. With that said, I’d wager that the snip that might cut Levy’s Gordian knot is best reflected in the title or — perhaps more accurately — in the answer to the question, “what movie did you just watch?”
January 5, 2016
FLAUNT MAGAZINE: How Should a Film ME?*
How Should a Film ME?*
An interview with Jefery Levy and Susan Traylor inside an essay by Emily Wells inside a play in one act by Werner Barnsdall
begins with fictional Hollywood producer Jefery Levy—played by real-life Levy—telling his actress friend Susan Traylor—played by Traylor, making sense now?—that he has one of the biggest shows in the world. Levy is under the delusion that a reality show, three seasons in, is being made about him as he goes about life in his own home. Jefery asks Susan to step in and write, produce, and direct his life in order to help bring his ratings back up.
In real life, Levy is a successful producer, and Traylor’s a successful actress. Yet the two co-wrote and produced this film, leading viewers to question what’s fact and what’s fiction. And that line becomes increasingly difficult to keep sight of as the film progresses—to the filmmakers’ credit. The film’s profound self-awareness is what makes it work.
YOU and YOUR FRIEND brunch in Beverly Hills.
YOUR FRIEND: Oh my god we’d make such a good reality show.
YOUR FRIEND: We are so L.A.
YOU: That’s what everyone in L.A. says.
YOUR FRIEND: So?
YOU: So if everyone had a reality show then who’d watch them?
YOUR FRIEND: Oh-muh-gawd they’re coming. Play it cool.
“I stumbled upon something called ‘The Truman Delusion,’” Levy says, in a real-life interview. “It is an actually abnormal psychological state, of which there have been approximately one thousand documented cases by some East Coast-based psychiatrists. In the Truman Delusion, the patient believes that he/she is the star of his/her own “show” and that he/she is being filmed at all times.”
The cast, which includes Nathalie Love, Steve Agee, and Molly Ringwald,all work together brilliantly to blur the lines between themselves, their self-obsessed characters, and the reality show tropes their characters strive to fulfill. In a mock-ad for an upcoming episode of the reality series, the meta-cast that Traylor has assembled is listed as: a movie star impersonator, a sex-crazed network executive, a stoned-out surfer chick, a neurotic chef, a psychotic maid, a rock ‘n’ roll butler, an idiotic underdressed security guard, a guy in a stupid hat, a writer-director-producer-actress and pathological liar (Traylor), a Levy who thinks he’s the star of his own reality show, a scheming bride, and a jealous husband.
The portended episode promises “a fight, a heart attack, weird sex, lots of drinking, casual drug use, another heart attack, LARPing, and a promise.” The players constantly address the audience, be it real or perceived. These embellished characters rely on each other (and the audience) in order to construct their own identities, which means that their self-performances are often at odds with those of the other characters.
The characters of ME possess a just conviction. “The mission of the show is to ease suffering for all mankind,” Levy says, leaving me once again wondering if he is referring to the show his character thinks he is in, the show Susan’s character is making, or the film itself. Through this poignantly absurd film, Traylor and Levy have created a meta-examination of the reality show industry, identity-obsessed culture, personal performance, and Los Angeles itself. As a viewer, I feel implicated in their critique, but never enough to look away—and that, of course, proves the point. It’s a pertinent work.
JEFERY LEVY and SUSAN TRAYLOR saunter in, laughing, an inside joke perhaps. They take two seats across from you and your friend.
YOUR FRIEND: How do I look?
YOU: Like a self-obsessed narcissist.
YOUR FRIEND: Love you. You’re so real. (pause) Hi Jefery. Susan, hi…
*Heti, S. (2012). How Should a Person Be? New York: Henry Holt and Company.
A Review Of “Me” A Truly Mind Bending Trip
By: Austin Winter-Chase
In the style of Stanley Kubrick with a Clockwork Orange feel director Jefery Levy takes the audience on a psychedelic mind trip of the crazy world that is reality TV. What is real and what is fantasy becomes clearly blurred in this delightfully entertaining and fun film.
In the film “Me” director Jefery Levy plays a delusional eccentric who believes he is the star of his own reality show. Thinking his global ratings are falling, he recruits down and out actress Susan to up his ratings by recasting, rewriting and reproducing his life. Susan casts a group of psychotic actors from Craigslist as Levy’s friends, lovers and staff, and, unbeknownst to Levy, sells a real show to a network about a delusional eccentric who believes he is the star of his own hidden camera reality show crazy world. With an unbelievable cast that includes Molly Ringwald, Sam Trammel, Allison Byrnes, Gina Gershon, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Steve Agee, Michael Des Barres, Nathan Keyes, Jefery Levy, Nathalie Love, Jay Mcinerney, Noah Mills, Julian Sands, and Susan Traylor, “Me” brings to life the far-fetched and sometimes outrageous scenarios that are crafted from the minds of those who are looking to cash in on the next big thing.
“Me” will make you laugh until you cry and give you an uncanny and humorous insight into the phenomenon that is reality TV. “Me” will screen at the debut of the Real Experimental Film Festival, Nov. 21-28, and run until Dec. 5 at the Laemmle Music Hall Theater. Though the festival ends on the 28th, the daily screenings of director Jefery Levy’s films “Me” and “The Key” will continue through Friday, December 5th.
“Me” 104 min
Director: Jefery Levy
Screenwriter: Jefery Levy, Susan Traylor
‘Me’ Theatrical: Ship of Faux in Neo-Modern ‘Truman Show’
The indie comedy “Me,” recently of the Marfa Film Festival, is an always amusing and frequently hilarious commentary on reality shows. The blurred lines between reality and “reality” include writer/producer/director/star Jefery Levy, who is also the creative force behind the recently reviewed sensual drama “The Key,” playing retired pioneer reality show producer Levy. The fictional Levy hires long-time friend Susan, played by long-time Jefery friend Susan Traylor, to makes changes designed to enhance the fictional ratings of the show “Me” that only exists in his mind.
The fictional Susan, in turn, makes an unwitting Levy the center of an actual reality show that does air. In this respect, the latter becomes a modern version of Truman Burbank, who is the central character in the 1998 Jim Carrey film “The Truman Show.” Confused? You won’t be after watching the awesomely titled “Me.”
Susan then goes about casting actors to play the “real” people in the life of Levy. Standouts include hiring quirky actor Steve Agee to play “alternate Levy” and hunky constantly shirtless scene-stealer Noah Mills playing wonderfully frenetic bodyguard Mills. His dancing alone makes “Me” the film and the reality show both worth watching.
Much of the humor relates to a clueless Levy not being in on the joke regarding not knowing that he is making a show other than the one that is airing. In this respect, he is like Chance the gardener in the classic Peter Sellers film “Being There.”
The real humor and drama ensue when the lines between reality and “reality” truly blur for an oblivious Levy and a fully cognizant Susan. These include a real-life nefarious plot and the real reality show becoming a hit.
The overall vibe of this melange of elements in “Me” evokes especially strong thoughts of the (unreal TV reviewed) June 2015 indie comedy “L.A. Slasher.” That one has a comparable cast of ’90s stars and centers around the titular maniac preying on reality-show archetypes who are famous merely for being famous. The message in both that film and “Me” is that reality shows ain’t real and those who star in them are not worthy of our time. Fortunately, these two films are worth watching.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding “Me” is encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.