A peculiar and particular problem afflicts Queen of the Lot: It does not seem like a real movie. It’s not merely that it’s amateurish, though that is certainly true: Actors appear surprised to be saying their lines, the discombobulated script desperately needs editing, the camerawork and production values are frequently bizarre. (That director Henry Jaglom has been making films for two decades is inconceivable.) A movie can be amateurish but still seem real, still be engaged and engaging—take, for example, a lot of (if not most) English movies. A movie that doesn’t seem real is one that, over and over, ejects you from what should be an enveloping cinematic embrace, back into a painful, bald awareness of viewing; a movie that doesn’t seem real refuses to make you and keep you complicit in its movie-ness. (Grant Cogswell manfully discusses this phenomenon in the director’s commentary for his disaster Cthulhu—if you haven’t watched this film with the commentary on, you must do it right away, as it is a hilarious, shockingly honest, brilliant documentary of failure. There is no need to watch Cthulhu without the commentary.)
Queen of the Lot begins as a Hollywood satire: fame-hungry starlet with two DUIs, manager talking on two cell phones at once, monstrous life coach, tiny yapping dog, idiotic actor-boyfriend. Bits here and there are funny, though the pacing is atrocious throughout; even some of the better scenes should be half as long. The plot turns somewhat serious an hour and a half in—the film lasts, and lasts, and lasts, for one hour and 54 minutes—then takes a couple extremely nonsensical twists. Throughout, the acting disintegrates, especially that of the starlet-lead, Tanna Frederick; she is never believable as a dingy actress, and she is then even less believable as an actress acting dingy who’s actually smart. She does not even seem believable as an actress playing an actress, which calls not only the movie but the real world into question. When Noah Wyle, of ER fame, is on-screen with her, his comfort with inhabiting a character—his realness as an actor, along with his (in this context, jarring) charm—conspires to create yet more cognitive dissonance. Frederick and Wyle, captured in the same frame, speaking words to each other, don’t even seem to be in the same movie. The references to Marilyn Monroe and other Hollywood classics, as well as the appearance of Peter Bogdanovich, are profoundly unwise insofar as they raise more meta-cinematic issues—issues that this film should have stayed very, very far away from. If Queen of the Lot is not the worst movie ever, that may be because it is just, somehow, not a movie at all.