Poignant, funny ‘EdTV’ insightfully probes cult of celebrity

The premise is simple. Take one guy. Take a bunch of TV cameras. Follow him around and broadcast every second of his life. That’s the idea behind Ron Howard’s latest movie, EdTV, starring Matthew McConaughey, Jenna Elfman and Woody Harrelson. EdTV is a hilarious satire about one man’s life as a celebrity on television. It comes very close to fitting into the same genre as The Truman Show, but it is not at all the same movie, as many have suspected it to be.

Ed Pekurny (McConaughey) makes a cameo appearance on his brother Ray’s (Harrelson) audition tape for a new show on “True TV,” which will follow someone around and broadcast their entire life. As it turns out he makes quite an impression on the show’s creator, Cynthia (Ellen DeGeneres). After calling him in for a chat, she decides that he is the guy for the job. The TV bigwigs, including the station’s CEO, who is played by Rob Reiner, approve. Before he knows it, Ed is waking up to a camera in his face.

At first the show is a tremendous bomb, but that changes quickly when Ray’s girlfriend Shari (Elfman) leaves him for Ed. That’s only the beginning, as Ed finds his life becoming something of, well, a TV show. For example: after years of being gone his father sees him on television and returns. Ed has to deal with finding out why his father really left, while he is handling a girlfriend who cannot stand being put on television.

Little does Ed know that not everything going wrong is a result of bad luck caused by those pesky cameras. The heads of the studio are also manipulating what happens behind the scenes, enticing Ed to do what they think is good for the show. At one point they even bring in a very attractive model (played by Elizabeth Hurley) who seduces Ed when Shari leaves him.

Like the rest of Ron Howard’s work, EdTV is a well-made film. In its exploration of celebrity it leaves no stone unturned. From the moment his show becomes popular, Ed is hounded everywhere he goes; everyone knows what he’s doing all the time. It gets to the point where newspapers such as USA Today are having national polls on what they think Ed should do about situations in his life. His brother writes a trash book about him. Everyone in the nation tunes in to watch him have sex (or at least attempt to). Slowly but surely his life transforms into a show for others to watch and for the media to control.

Then he gets to the point where he wants out there’s no exit. Once all the twist and turns of Ed’s life are settled, Howard starts to concentrate on this aspect of the film, making a poignant statement on the lure of the money and glamour that trap Ed in his celebrity life. The protagonist becomes a slave to his celebrity status.

The movie was very light hearted, though, and well-written. The film’s best point is probably how Ed uses the very thing holding him prisoner and turns it around on his captor. But I won’t spoil that. In any case, the story brings you through one twist after another, so much so that after a while it seems to be a little much that all this can happen to one person.

Sure, it is. But it’s so well set up, delivered and timed that it works beautifully. Besides, who doesn’t think he lives a life wacky enough to be on a good TV show? And the acting was strong all around; of course, it was a great cast so it would have been hard for them to go wrong. Martin Landau in particular deserves mention for his excellent and hilarious portrayal of Ed’s step father. Other particularly strong efforts from DeGeneres and Reiner. The only upsetting aspect of the movie was the lack of a role for Woody Harrelson, who did what he could with a part that left him little with which to work.

EdTV is an entertaining and thoughtful movie, definitely what you would come to expect from all of those involved in its making. Ron Howard has yet another precious gem in his hands with this film.