The eponymous ‘queen’, proud L.A. nightclub owner Mary, towers over the film thanks to a commanding performance from Rosemary Hochschild. Mary appears in almost every scene and is, fittingly, the most compelling character, catalysing the plot through her pursuit of the American Dream. It’s an instantly memorable, lived-in turn; Hochschild slowly but devastatingly breaks down Mary’s pragmatic businesswoman persona into a full gamut of emotions. This is her best showcase yet after decades of credits, and a convincing argument for giving Hollywood’s underappreciated character actors their time to shine. Meanwhile, the supporting cast are capable but mostly relegated to minor roles apart from Ana Mulvoy-Ten as Grace, a newcomer to Mary’s club and our audience surrogate. Indeed, Grace and Mary’s scenes together are when the horrors of this seedy world are most apparent: it may be easy to become desensitised to crime and violence after decades among it, but Mulvoy-Ten highlights how confronting it is to witness them for the first time.
Despite its tone and performances being undeniably engaging, there are basic issues that keep the film from feeling like more than a proof of concept. For instance, the dialogue appears to have been neglected in favour of Oblowitz’s directorial duties, leaving large chunks of the former feeling unpolished. Most notably, virtually every character speaks far too literally, including career criminals openly bragging about or stating their intention to commit crimes. Likewise, Mary often explicitly states her motivations as a monologue while almost looking directly into the camera, which left me unsure as to whether she’s supposed to know she’s a fictional character. Simultaneously, the editing is inconsistent to the point of distraction; some scenes abruptly start before the previous one even has time to finish, while others linger on a black screen for several seconds afterwards. This is particularly glaring given the film presents an obvious solution to the problem: it already uses intertitles to distinguish between acts, although there often seems to be little rhyme nor reason to where these act breaks fall. These are used to maintain chronology, and the notion that the film takes place over a single day, yet the latter is so unbelievable it should’ve been abandoned altogether.
THE QUEEN OF HOLLYWOOD BLVD is littered with moments that come across as deliberately quirky, as if Oblowitz is attempting to reverse engineer what makes a Tarantino film memorable or cool. Thankfully, this is largely worthwhile; even during the most cringeworthy scenes there’s a campiness that holds the viewer’s attention. Although it’s hard to be sure if all the film’s B-movie charm was intended, it’s ultimately the strongest selling point. Viewers will know whether they can handle its sheer oddness within the first few minutes, but those who stick around will be as interested as I am to see what Oblowitz and Hochschild do next.