(WARNING: Mature language) Hollywood has been making movies about itself since at least 1937, when the first version of A Star is Born was released. Some of those movies have been classics: Sullivan’s Travels, Sunset Boulevard, Singin’ in the Rain, Shampoo, The Stunt Man and The Player are a few titles that come to mind.
It’s not at all surprising that an industry so full of narcissists will find itself fascinating, and even less surprising that, having reached a state of terminal self-absorption, those movies have been coming out more frequently in the last couple of decades. Which brings us to Entourage, the movie.
If you didn’t know, Entourage began life as an HBO series in 2004, in the middle of the cable network’s first glory run, when its schedule included The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire and Deadwood. It was created by Doug Ellin, a writer known previously for forgettable comedies like Phat Beach and Kissing A Fool, though it was originally inspired by producer Mark Wahlberg’s experiences when he came west to L.A. after his success with the Funky Bunch and underwear modeling.
It was the lightweight on HBO’s roster, though it made a star out of Jeremy Piven, who played Ari Gold, a belligerent talent agent based on Ari Emanuel, the younger brother of Obama advisor and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel. It followed the rise of Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier,) a young actor plucked from a Mentos ad by Gold and rocketed upward as a Hollywood star, bringing along his trio of buddies from out east: Eric (Kevin Connolly,) Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) and older brother Drama (Kevin Dillon, the younger brother of Matt Dillon and a benchmark of stunt casting.)
Entourage ran for eight seasons on HBO, ending in 2011 with Vince married, Ari retired, Turtle rich, Eric about to become a father and Drama, well, pretty much the same running gag he’s been for the whole series. The movie begins at a party on a yacht anchored near Ibiza, where a minute or two’s worth of dialogue sums up the intervening months (weeks? days? – it’s hard to tell) since we left them: Ari is running a studio, Vince’s marriage is over, Eric’s girlfriend has left him, Turtle has lost a lot of weight and Drama is still a moron.
In another minute the film’s plot is set in motion: Ari has a script for Vince, which Vince won’t do unless he can direct. The film effectively condenses a season of the show into ninety minutes, as a parade of cameos zips by while Ari and the boys try to get Vince’s film finished despite the opposition of the film’s de facto villains, a Texas billionaire played by Billy Bob Thornton and his starstruck, dimwit son (Haley Joel Osment.)
Entourage was often described as Sex and the City for dudes – an aspirational fantasy about what the average walking pecker would do if he got hitched to a shooting star and was presented with a lifestyle and opportunities they wouldn’t get if they were night manager at a Sbarro’s or parking cars at a strip club.
It was also a way for Hollywood to glory in its own decadence, depravity and batshit insane business model, like a wealthy addict who tells great stories about all the mistakes he’s made and friends he’s burned. For five years it ran alongside Showtime’s Californication, which did the same thing with darker storylines, David Duchovny and more graphic sex scenes.
The best version of A Star Is Born – the 1954 version starring Judy Garland – ended by telling us that stardom was fickle and that Hollywood had no patience with has-beens. Sunset Boulevard told us that the Hollywood fantasy was toxic, even fatal, and could drive you insane. Shampoo’s message was that Hollywood had jettisoned its moral centre along with the Hays Code and the studio system, and that everyone in its orbit was tainted.
That’s ancient history, and at some point in the ‘80s Hollywood learned to start loving itself – even its flaws, and 1992’s The Player ends by drolly telling us that success lets you get away with anything in Hollywood, even murder. So what passes for a moral at the end of Entourage – delivered by Piven’s Ari at the climactic boardroom showdown where he saves Vince’s film – is that movie stars are allowed to do things that no mere citizen could imagine, even if they have money, and that anyone who wants to do business in Hollywood has to live with that. Also, bros not hos. Roll credits.
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