Brent Spiner made his name as iconic android Data on “Star Trek,” but he’s retreated from public life in Hollywood. He’s been teaching acting at Cal State Fullerton, but when he’s up for an award for his work on the show that made him famous, he mulls over a comeback, though he’s reluctant to dive back in. It’s a whole new Hollywood, complete with TMZ and hashtags, and Spiner isn’t sure it’s for him.
But when his old nemesis LeVar Burton commits to the awards show, Spiner decides to jump back into Hollywood. As he makes the rounds and re-enters in the industry, he finds himself embroiled in the old feud that plagued him during the height of his fame — and it’s still bitter enough to possibly derail his re-entry into Hollywood.
Directed by Sharon Everitt and written by Karen Anderson, Jeff Cosgrove and Everitt, this spiky short comedy has a scope and ambition rare in a genre where punchline skits and sketches dominate. The storytelling is character-based, driven by its protagonist’s drive to prove himself and stake out his terrain in a hostile, competitive environment, against a long-running archenemy. Sounds serious, but when the main character is a petty, egotistical star trying to regain his past glory in an industry always looking for the shiny and new — and you throw in some musical numbers for good measure, along with Frasier actor Peri Gilpin as Spiner’s wife and a cameo by comedian Doug Benson — the result is hilarious, entertaining and a helluva lot of fun.
The film’s strength rests on a great central performance by Brent Spiner, who is playing himself. But it’s clearly a heightened portrait of a star who has seen better days and yet still demands the attention of current-day celebrity. Spiner the character is bitter, sarcastic, ego-driven and vainglorious. Spiner the actor is clearly enjoying himself as he sings, dances and preens, with a performance that’s both utterly committed to the moment’s emotion while winking at the satire of an ego that just won’t let go of past glories or grudges.
Spiner traipses from one scene and musical number to the next with a deliciously toxic combination of entitlement and bad attitude, and the rhythms of the storytelling are both amiably laidback yet constantly bubbling with sharply amusing observations. The visual style is also seemingly relaxed and casual as well, in the style of the handheld one-camera comedy that’s great at capturing small but telling moments. These moments pile up as Spiner finally confronts his nemesis — and rethink its long-running effect on his life when it bubbles over into humiliation.
The delight of “Brentwood” is watching an iconic actor poke fun at himself and the peculiarly enduring level of stardom that being on an iconic, much-beloved show and franchise confers. Though Spiner the character has tried to move on, he’s not quite where he wants to be despite all his efforts and is both hampered and seduced by his enduring fame to remain in the past. The great irony, of course, is that by lampooning himself and the grip of stardom, Spiner the actor reveals terrific range, comedic chops, and wily self-awareness — not to mention a facility as an enjoyable song-and-dance man — and it would be immense fun to follow this story of a former star finding his way in a new Hollywood. Which, after all, isn’t so different from the old Hollywood, except with more hashtags on social media and more ways to get famous than ever.
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Photo credit: Screenshot from video