Local boys make good (video)

Searching for Carrie Fisher may be the best little gem in the festival. Too bad it's buried in the otherwise unremarkable "Love and Obsession" compilation. You may have to sit through some pretty bad selections to get to it, but it's definitely worth the wait.

Then again, you already may have been clued in to this rightfully hyped short: A couple of former SMU film students take off on a ludicrous quest to meet the object of a massive childhood crush--Carrie Fisher of Princess Leia and Star Wars fame. Steven Dooher, the very droll young man at the helm, was in fact one of the most inventive would-be filmmakers of his graduating class, so it's no surprise that this post-grad effort is as fresh and funny as anything out of Dallas in some time.

Dooher grew up in Boston, and at the ripe age of seven, he and his best friend made cassette-taped "love letters" for their heroine, the then-lithe-and-lovely Fisher. For the film, Dooher briefly returns to Boston to reminisce with that friend, and in the process reveals just how intense and goofy the crush was: Like most kids, they concocted complex fantasies of a life with the actress (one boy would be her husband during the weekdays, the other her butler, then they'd switch roles on the weekends). They laugh. They blush. They look embarrassed. Dooher knows full well just how absurd it is that he'll attempt, as an adult, to pass off one of these kiddie tapes to the now middle-aged, Los Angeles-based Fisher. But how to reach her? How to pull it off without looking like a stalker?

She's the perfect Holy Grail: a caustic, discriminating star who helped create the entire Star Wars legacy--the very thing that ruled the hearts and minds of '70s- and early-'80s-era boys and girls across America. That she's since been associated with heavy drug addiction and recovery (see: book-to-film Postcards From the Edge) and an only slightly resuscitated screen career (see: When Harry Met Sally) makes her even more appropriate for Dooher's goal. She's not in the People-magazine spotlight these days; she's more a writer, really. But she's not so out of the loop that he can just go knock on her front door. If his choice of sought-after starlet had been someone as obvious as Cameron Diaz, or someone as obscure as, say, Elina Lowensohn, this wouldn't have worked. We have to believe he may, through some detective work and sweet-talking, get to the actress, and we have to relate to his sentimentalizing of her early career. This is what makes the film both honest and endearing.

But Searching for Carrie Fisher works on several other crucial levels. First, Dooher is smart but humble, and his spontaneous delivery, much of it through his phone conversations and problem-solving in an L.A. hotel room, matches just how any of us might feel trying to break through Hollywood's system of celebrity obstacles: reticent agents, dense housekeepers, catty secretaries. He's nervous, he's flying without a plan, and he's frustrated. Second, Dooher doesn't have to try to be funny--the premise is inherently comic--but the timing of his puzzled expressions and wry observations is impeccable. Third, we really don't know whether he'll reach his goal; the action is laid out in a tense and promising build that keeps us guessing to the end.

Last but not least, he and co-producer Daniel Loflin (who also runs sound and camera) know to keep this experiment mercifully short. One-trick-pony shows like this couldn't withstand an hour's playing time (think of an unbearably long Saturday Night Live skit); most video filmmakers drag out their projects at the expense of audience patience because video is so cheap to work with. Yet this one, start to finish, clocks in at around 20 minutes. Good instincts.

I don't want to give away the ending, so let's just say that by the time the film wraps, you, along with Dooher and Loflin, have come across an unexpectedly generous--if not pretentious and flighty--second-tier star. It's no wonder that Dooher refers to Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher's child as "Hollywood's Dorothy Parker." And that Carrie Fisher actually likes the tag.

--Christina Rees

Searching for Carrie Fisher
Friday, March 26; 7:00 p.m. in the Video Box