Delirious: Tom DiCillo (Living in Oblivion) Indie Comedy

After a couple of disappointing films (including “The Real Blonde”), Tom DiCillo is back on terra ferma with “Delirious,” an original, low-budgeted indie comedy about the zany dimensions of our obsession with celebrity culture that’s more in the vein of his earlier and better work, like “Living in Oblivion.”

The movie world-premiered a year ago at the San Sebastian Film Fest and played at Sundance Fest (which has shown most of DiCillo’s work) and is now getting theatrical release stateside.

It may or may not be a coincidence that in Steve Buscemi’s last two indies, “Interview,” which he directed and co-starred in with Sienna Miller, and now “Delirious,” are both contempo satires of celebrity culture, with the actor playing a s a journalist/paparazzi.

In “Delirious,” Buscemi plays Les Galatine, a rough unscrupulous Downtown paparazzo. One night, while staking out a sexy but talentless starlet named K’Harma Leed (Alison Lohman) at a trendy club, Les meets a young and handsome homeless Tobey (Michael Pitt). Attracted to Tobey and having been dumped by her British lover Jace (Richard Short), K’Harma throws herself into a steamy if unlikely romance.

At first, it seems that the duo have nothing in common, but we know that they are more similar than willing to admit. Like Les, Tobey is a hustler, and also like him, he’s immature and unrealistic, more a boy than a man.

The ensuing eccentric saga details how the odd couple bonds, unbonds, and rebonds in a friendship that’s full of conflicts and frictions, misunderstandings but also genuine vulnerability. As partners going for easy snapshots, the duo frequents all kinds of media events, such as a celeb STD convention, which offers free food, free booze, and occasionally even gift bags.

DiCillo’s brand of comedy, as shown in previous works (“Lost In Oblivion,” “Johnny Suede”) is not the overtly uproarious or hilarious kind, but satirical fables based don sharp observation of minutia, unexpected details and the characters’ outrageous personalities. This becomes clear when Les takes Tobey to his home in Queens, and we meet his eccentric father (well played by the N.Y. stage actor Tom Aldredge), a man obsessed with war weaponry made out of particular kinds of napkins

You may find a subplot about a serial killer in a reality show who premeditates murder, distracting from the main proceedings, but it’s mo more than an interlude in a timely film that looks at our contempo celeb culture in a fresh and even subversive mode.

Watching the film also brings to mind buddy movies about misfits who become unlikely chums, such as John Schlesinger “Midnight Cowboy,” with Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight as American dreamers-losers, residing in the squalor of the old Times Square. The central situation of a garrulous middle-aged pro who takes under his wing and trains a greener who’s nave and good-natured is not new, but in the hands of Dicillo the writer and helmer, it becomes something else.

I particularly liked the sequence set at a Soap Stars Against STD Convention, where Tobey charms a sexy casting director (Gina Gershon) and begins a romance with a teen sexpot K’harma, an aspiring singer who, despite a bevy of assistants, is famous for being famous.

Buscemi has played many verbose losers and defeatists in other films (such as the Coen brothers comedies), but here he reveals new dimensions of an insecure and self-absorbed paparazzo that fit him like a glove; reportedly DiCillo wrote the part specifically for him. As viewers, our voyeuristic anxieties are mirrored in Les, at once a loveable buffoon and tragic figure.

Michael Pitt, who hails from TV’s “Dawson’s Creek” and has appeared in films by Bertolluci (“The Dreamers”) and Gus Van Sant, continues to develop dramatically and can no longer dismissed as a pretty photogenic face. Pitt’s Tobey reflects our aspirations for greater authenticity and some truth in a world increasingly defined and dominated by glitzy images and superficial ads

At a time when celebrity mania is its peak/nadir, DiCillo delivers an energetic, witty satire that pokes absurdly ironic fun at paparazzi, publicists, stars, and other players involved in the machine that manufactures fame, while not neglecting the more serious elements and price paid by all those caught in the process, including the audience of magazine readers and TV watchers, without whose active support celeb culture simply cannot exist.

Warning: Please stay through the closing credits, since the yarn’s very last and good scene appears at the very end.

Credits

Running time: 106 Minutes

A Peace Arch Films/Artina Films production in association with Thema Production.
Produced by Robert Salerno.
Executive producers, Jimmy de Brabant, Michael Dounaev, Kami Naghdi, Mark Balsam, Gary Howsam, Lewin Webb, Barry Zemel, John Flock, Jennifer Levine.
Directed, written by Tom DiCillo.
Camera, Frank G. DeMarco.
Editor, Paul Zucker.
Music, Anton Sanko.
Production designer, Teresa Mastropiero.
Art director, Mylene Santos.
Sound, Patrick Donahue.

Cast

Les (Steve Buscemi)
Toby (Michael Pitt)
K’Harma Leed (Alison Lohman)

With: Gina Gershon, Callie Thorne, Kevin Corrigan, Richard Short, Elvis Costello
Tom Aldredge.