Review: ‘Delirious’ a fun, worthy indie satire

While comedies about the insane obsession with celebrity are hardly new, Tom DiCillo’s “Delirious” proves itself a fresh and perceptive satire as it lampoons everything from brainless pop stars to entertainment “journalism” and its equivalent of the cockroach, the paparazzo.

And as a quirky indie about an oddball friendship, the movie’s also a pleaser.

Set in a universe where fame equals worth, and where the next-best thing to being a famous person is to exist in the orbit of one, the comedy stars Steve Buscemi as Les, a two-bit shutterbug who stalks celebrities, snaps candid photos of them, and sells the results to sleaze rags. Rising star Michael Pitt plays Toby, an angelic-looking homeless young wannabe actor who starts working for Les in exchange for a room (a closet actually) in Les’ grungy New York digs.

Codependency happens. Toby serves as a companion as well as a gofer for the emotionally needy Les, and Les teaches an appreciative Toby the trade.

The friendship collapses, however, when Toby, who’s not quite as selfless as he seems, gets romantically involved with K’Harma (Alison Lohman), a pop princess whose world Les has himself tried to penetrate. Additionally, Toby, after bedding a casting director (Gina Gershon), lands a reality-TV gig.

Feeling left behind, Les starts thinking desperately.

As satire, the movie lacks the edge of “The King of Comedy” or “To Die For,” and, as showbizzy send-up, it’s dimmer than DiCillo’s own “Living in Oblivion.” Attimes it suggests a pale “Midnight Cowboy” (which DiCillo has cited as an influence) or a benign, male “All About Eve.”

Yet it’s still a uniquely bright and funny look at the fame shebang and a surprisingly affecting human-connection story.

DiCillo, delivering his best work since “Oblivion,” serves up distinctive sweetness, astute parody, and appealing off-kilterness. These elements result in some bang-up material, from a telling visit with Les’ scathingly critical parents to a stellar comic moment in which Les checks out the contents of a goodie bag he’s appropriated.

Buscemi, meanwhile, who starred in “Oblivion,” gives the film some impressive human vibrancy, mixing zingy humor with raw desperation and coming up with something almost tragicomic. His scenes with Pitt’s Toby, a convincingly played blankish slate, contain sparkling dysfunctional-buddy dynamics.

The cast also includes Kevin Corrigan as Les’ longtime friend and Elvis Costello, playing himself and emitting a celebrity aura that reduces the star-struck Les to panic.

Delirious ***

Starring Steve Buscemi, Michael Pitt, Alison Lohman, Gina Gershon

Written and directed by Tom DiCillo

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes

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