I’m pretty sure that there is not a celebrity out there who truly likes being followed by the paparazzi. Actor-cum-documentarian, Adrian Grenier, happens to be one of those unlucky celebrities, who always have paparazzi surrounding them. However, what makes Grenier’s issues with the paparazzi, and our current celebrity obsessed culture, truly unique is that he not only deals with flashing light bulbs following him everywhere he goes in real life, but also on set where he stars as the fake popular movie star Vincent Chase on HBO’s Entourage.
Constantly being pursued by the paparazzi, both real and fake, on a daily basis has lead Grenier to think about what really drives the paparazzi to stalk and pursue celebrities. While walking through an airport one day, Grenier was photographed by a kid that he thought was just a fan, who actually turned out to be a 14-year-old professional paparazzo named Austin Visschedyk. Fascinated by what would make a kid want to become a paparazzo, Grenier decided to turn the cameras on Austin while also using him as a prism to explore the intense relationship that exists between the paparazzi and celebrities. My DVD review of the resulting documentary, Teenage Paparazzo, lies after the jump.
Grenier’s documentary starts off as a film about this 14-year-old paparazzo, but what makes Teenage Paparazzo already interesting from the start is Grenier’s honest sincerity while he explains his intentions and thoughts about why he began to make the documentary. The honesty and general “I don’t know where this is going to go at all.” attitude expressed from the get-go makes the viewer feel like they are also on this quest for knowledge along with Grenier.
At first, Grenier chooses to mainly focus his film on Austin and his family. He befriends him and his parents as he begins to follow them around while asking the standard questions that you would expect. We find out how Austin got into the paparazzi business, how he earns from $500 to $1,000 per picture, and how he manages to do this as a job while being so young. What is interesting from this segment of the film is that Grenier does not outright judge the parent’s decision of letting their son be out and about in L.A. at two in the morning by himself, but there is a general sense of something not feeling quite right with what you are watching. He also intercuts all of this footage with celebrities and sociologists talking about what they think about the paparazzi and Austin. The talking head footage is interesting, but it’s not like you can’t predict what each person is going to say. It’s mostly “The paparazzi are so crazy that they once…” kind of stories mixed in with the obvious “Where are his parents and why are they allowing him to do this?” questions.
However, Grenier attempts to show us that we shouldn’t be so quick to judge Austin and his parents by illustrating to us just how smart, business savvy, and truly great Austin is at his job as he follows him around doing his job in Los Angeles. He may be in dangerous situations, and he may be out in L.A. in the early hours of the morning, but he seems to be able to handle himself quite well. You just can’t help but admire Austin on some level despite of what you may think about his chosen profession and age.
While filming the documentary, Grenier notices that he is being followed by a paparazzo in a car as he is driving. Noticing an opportunity, he pulls over, goes up to the paparazzo’s car, and they suddenly begin to have an insightful natural conversation about how they view each other. The conversation ends with the paparazzo telling Grenier that he wouldn’t understand why she does what she does until he takes a walk in her shoes. Grenier expresses a “Why not?” attitude about the suggestion and decides to take her up on that idea, and this is really when Teenage Paparazzo goes from being an interesting, if a bit trite, documentary to being a surprisingly true gem of a documentary.
We begin to follow Grenier as he decides to become a paparazzo with Austin serving as his teacher and it’s during this segment of the film that we begin to see Grenier’s attitude towards his own film, and what the purpose of it all is, begin to shine through in a very charming and entertaining way. The film continues to be a profile of Austin, but Grenier begins to go on more and more tangents as they present themselves to him while he continues to try to understand the paparazzi, why we are so obsessed with fame, and Austin as well. His willingness to roll with the punches and with whatever presents itself to him is always fun to watch, but it’s his self realization and thoughts of what he thinks his film is becoming that makes Teenage Paparazzo special. Most documentaries would normally suffer from not having a clear goal before shooting, but Grenier’s frank honesty as he continues to figure out what exactly he is trying to say with his film is refreshing and is something we don’t really see too often.
It’s Grenier’s constant honesty and attitude towards everything that makes Teenage Paparazzo work on multiple levels. Grenier is not only honest about what he is trying to figure out with his film, but he is also honest with how he portrays Austin. The film doesn’t shy away from portraying Austin as an unlikable unsympathetic brat (to use a nicer word) and one particular scene in the film where Austin pretends to fall down in order to try and get an up-skirt shot of Paris Hilton truly makes you feel uneasy and uncomfortable. Another surprisingly poignant scene comes when Austin sees the iconic Kent State massacre photo for the first time, but shrugs it off because it is lacking excitement to him.
Teenage Paparazzo is an interesting, distressing, and fun documentary up to this point, but what really makes it stand out are the final minutes of the film. I’m going to choose to not go into the details of what exactly happens because it comes as such a wonderful and intriguing surprise, but I will say that what happens to Grenier and Austin makes the film become delightfully meta. Once again, Grenier is self conscious and honest as he notices how much of a hall of mirrors his film is becoming. This self realization that he might have “fucked up” while making the film with Grenier then trying to figure out what his next step should be are what makes the documentary exceptional. Teenage Paparazzo is not so much about the exploration of the topic of celebrities and our fascination with fame as it is about how Grenier becomes the topic that he himself is trying to figure out. It is fascinating to watch and the finished product feels much more like an art project than a documentary.
Grenier is always one step ahead of the audience and it’s this attitude behind the filmmaking that makes Teenage Paparazzo go through so many twists and turns before reaching it’s somewhat corny, if heartfelt, ending. Teenage Paparazzo may suffer from going into one too many tangents at what seems like too brisk of a pace at times, but the film is never boring, and is always interesting. We rarely get documentaries that are this self aware about how they might be influencing the topic that they are covering. It’s a joy to watch and it is what makes Teenage Paparazzo become a documentary that transcends its genre due to its unique personality.