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Queen of the Lot Reviews

As a sequel to the 2006 Hollywood Dreams, writer-director Henry Jaglom’s seriocomedy Queen of the Lot resumes the chronicle of Maggie Chase, nee Margie Chizek (Tanna Frederick). At the outset, aspiring actress Maggie lies in bed with her aunt Bee (Melissa Leo) and watches George Cukor’s The Women on television, reflecting candidly that she longs to attain the status once held by Norma Shearer -- “Queen of the Lot.” The narrative then leaps forward in time three years, to a point when Maggie has fulfilled her dreams of A-list stature, with lead roles in glossy action pictures. But accompanying the fame are salacious developments ripe for tabloid fodder: a DUI charge, a court-ordered ankle bracelet, and temporary house arrest for Maggie. Over the trajectory of the story, Maggie obtains permission from the cops to relocate to the home of her agent and his partner (Zack Norman and David Proval), after which she follows actor boyfriend Dov Lambert (Christopher Rydell) to the estate owned by his legendary Hollywood parents (Jack Heller and Kathryn Grant). At that house, Maggie also crosses paths with Dov’s brother, novelist-turned-screenwriter Aaron Lambert (Noah Wyle of ER), little realizing that this stranger may soon change her life. For the first half of the picture, Jaglom delights in re-exploring the show-business landscape he’s known intimately for over 40 years, with bright, original touches. The most remarkable of these may also be the sneakiest: our initial feeling at the agents’ home of complete bewilderment, of being dropped into a maelstrom of characters swirling around the periphery of each scene, and wondering who they are -- minutes before Jaglom begins to identify the individuals populating Maggie and the Lamberts’ inner circles, one by one. This expository demarche functions as a profound metaphor for the social fabric of industry life. The filmmaker also tickles the audience with whimsical yet sharp character riffs, each of them delightfully offbeat and unexpected. Take, for example, Maggie’s agent, Kaz (Norman), who lets the actress stay in the bedroom that he and companion Caesar (Proval) occupy; the gentlemen spend the night together on a cramped living room couch, and when Caesar complains, Kaz reassures him with a reminder of the percentage they’re collecting from the gross on Maggie’s films. Or consider the inclusion of a character named Pedja Sapir (Peter Bogdanovich) -- an arty director who’s getting pressured to remake Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise as a Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie vehicle, a la Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Jaglom pairs all of this light jocularity with darker and more disturbing glimpses of fame and glamour -- such as the creepiness of lurking and leering paparazzi, the naivete of Maggie’s willful interaction with the clamoring photographers, and the Lamberts’ teenage daughter’s (Sabrina Jaglom) conniving and successful attempt to strong-arm Maggie into a show-business deal of her own design. All of this, by itself, would constitute a fascinating movie. But Jaglom one-ups himself by layering, on top of this Hollywood commentary, a winning romance with an unusual angle. When Aaron (a sincere and intelligent character who stands in contrast to his ne’er-do-well brother Dov) begins to fall headfirst for Maggie, his attraction to her isn’t one of idealization, but of deep-seated perception. He instantly recognizes what a warm and vulnerable heart she has, masked by her desperate need for public approval. And in a way that can’t quite be articulated, Jaglom somehow enables the audience to catch Aaron’s vision of Maggie -- from their first moments together, Aaron knows exactly how special she is, and so do we. Of course, this couldn’t happen without the stunning onscreen chemistry that exists between the leads, or superlative performances from both. Frederick, in particular, glows with a unique radiance throughout and brings to bear a whole spectrum of behavioral and emotional complexities that make the character of Maggie as fascinating as she is compelling. And in the gifted Wyle, Jaglom has found the perfect male counterpart for his female lead. In reflecting on Jaglom’s prior work, one feels repeatedly struck by each motion picture’s singular, cohesive vision. Queen of the Lot is certainly no exception, but it marks a bold leap forward for the filmmaker in terms of the depth and breadth of the canvas on display. In deftly intertwining its two tonally and thematically distinct threads -- the insider’s satirical dissection of life in the movie business with the unusually mature adult romance at the center of the story -- Jaglom achieves the perfection of a master artist.