The follow-up to his 2006 film Hollywood Dreams, Queen of the Lot
picks up three years later with central character Maggie Chizek (Tanna Frederick), now calling herself Maggie Chase, having achieved a modest degree of success in B-movies as a kick ass martial arts heroine making action/adventure flicks of a rather cheesy nature. Maggie finds herself on house arrest, courtesy of two recent DUI arrests, but is determined to not let her clunky ankle bracelet keep her from climbing out of B-movies and into the upper echelon of Hollywood actresses. With her team of handlers (Ron Vignone, Diane Salinger, David Proval and Zack Norman) spinning her DUI's into tabloid gold and a bad boy movie star boyfriend (Christopher Rydell) by her side, Maggie is on her way up the Hollywood ladder. Life gets complicated for Maggie, however, when a trip back to her boyfriend's home to meet his legendary family introduces her to an extraordinary world of Hollywood royalty (Peter Bogdanovich, Dennis Christopher, Mary Crosby, Kathryn Crosby and Jack Heller. Matters become even more complicated when Maggie meets Aaron (Noah Wyle), her boyfriend's black sheep brother. Maggie and Aaron hit it off immediately, with the failed writer able to see the truth behind Maggie's image...of course, this is Hollywood and Aaron has a few secrets of his own.
With a Hollywood career spanning over 40 years, writer/director Henry Jaglom is one of those directors who has come to personify what it means to truly be an independent filmmaker. His films have run across a wide spectrum, from a not widely seen Dennis Hopper flick (1977's Tracks)
to a National Lampoon film (1982's Movie Madness)
to his more recent flicks centered around the lovely Tanna Frederick (Hollywood Dreams, Irene in Time and Queen of the Lot).
Despite often working with considerably less than a 7-figure production budget, Jaglom's films have featured such notables as the previously mentioned Hopper, 2011 Oscar winner Melissa Leo (1985's Always),
multiple Oscar winner Jack Nicholson (Jaglom's first film, 1971's A Safe Place),
Emmy Award-winning Greta Scacchi (2001's Festival in Cannes)
and numerous others.
There are moments of pure cinematic bliss in Queen of the Lot,
a film that possesses a rather classic Hollywood spirit despite being set within the contemporary scene. Frederick, who started off with Jaglom showing tremendous promise as an actress and who grown by leaps and bounds as an actress, has wisely softened Maggie's edges and managed to create a more sympathetic character out of a woman who is simultaneously self-absorbed, immature, wide-eyed and completely starstruck. Frederick's Maggie is not a completely appealing character, a fact that may distract some viewers but it is this way out of necessity as virtually any up-and-coming young starlet must have a rather substantial degree of self-absorption in order to survive the Hollywood machinery. Frederick's performance is intelligent, deeply felt, gloriously romantic and frequently quite fun.
Noah Wyle, whom you likely remember from his years as Dr. Carter on television's ER,
is perfectly cast as Aaron, essentially the only person in Maggie's world who seems to truly understand and respect her. While many films would have had Aaron turn out to be the angelic Prince Charming, Jaglom infuses his characters with tremendous authenticity and Wyle beautifully brings Jaglom's words and character development to life. Wyle and Frederick display remarkable chemistry together, the kind of chemistry that has long been forgotten in Hollywood with the possible exception of a few intelligent talkie flicks like Julie Delpy's Before Sunrise
and Before Sunset.
Christopher Rydell does a great job as Dov, Maggie's bad boy boyfriend, while Peter Bogdanovich fairly well steals the show as an absurdly matter-of-fact director who wondrously explains why a certain film, Trouble in Paradise,
couldn't possibly be remade. Sabrina Jaglom, the director's daughter, is here in a rather smallish role yet manages to make herself known. Dennis Christopher, Paul Sand and Edward Sayegh also shine as supporting players.
Queen of the Lot
was quite successful on the film festival circuit before its limited theatrical release, picking up awards at WorldFest Houston, Wild Rose Film Festival in Iowa and Hawaii's Big Island Film Festival. While Jaglom can be a bit frustrating in his self-indulgence at times, with Queen of the Lot
he's on top of the game and Tanna Frederick is shining brightly.
Queen of the Lot
is now available with a nice DVD packaging courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures, and the DVD includes a great commentary featuring Jaglom, Frederick and Wyle that's worth the price of the DVD alone. For more information, visit the Queen of the Lot page at Breaking Glass Pictures.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic