TV film review: Face Value: The Marla Hanson Story (1991), directed by John Gray
It’s mid-1980s. Marla Hanson (b. 1961) is a small-town girl with a big dream, so she has gone all the way to New York City in order to make them come true. All she wants is to become a successful model, but no agency seems to want her. When Marla (Cheryl Pollak) gategrashes a fancy party with her friend Lyn (Jennifer Van Dyck), she bumps into photographer Eric Warner (Dale Midkiff), who offers to take some professional shots for her.
Through Eric’s connections, she manages to get hired by an agency, and her career is just taking off. Marla wants to get her own place, and one of the guys who work on shoots, Steve Roth (Kirk Baltz) has an apartment he sub-lets to a couple of models. When Steve takes to stalking her, and she’s not interested, things go from creepy to disastrous. After all, what is a model without her most treasured asset – her face?
Spoilers, but only if you’ve never heard about the case this film is based on.
Also starring Jack Blessing as Joel, Juanita Jennings as the Prosecutor, Madison Mason as Marla’s doctor, and Stephen Tobolowsky as the Defense Attorney.
Say what you like about true TV movies, I’ve already declared they’re my guilty pleasure. The only reason I pounced on this one was because of Dale Midkiff, and when his character was being oh so friendly and helpful to Marla, I thought “aww, man! He’s going to turn out to be the bad guy!” – fortunately he’s only a bit of a jerk, but his intentions to help her are genuine.
Less so for Steve, whose actor funnily enough doesn’t look a mile off Midkiff, making me giggle when Steve complained about not being a looker and so on. Looked yourself in a mirror recently, dude? Sadly for Steve, he’s a complete and utter nutbag. And when I say nutbag, I mean that as a portmanteau of “nutcase” and “dirtbag”, and those things on the inside tend to tarnish looks on the outside. He’s seriously creepy. Unfortunately, being the nice and naive Midwestern girl that she is, Marla doesn’t immediately tell him to go fuck himself (like the other models do), she is polite and courteous, which he takes as “she loves me!” and redoubles his efforts. Stalkers really do give me the creeps.
There were a few things I couldn’t help but wonder about. With the many frenzied, and increasingly threatening, calls to Marla’s answering machine, why didn’t she turn that tape in to the police? (Or keep them and use them as evidence later?) Why, oh, why didn’t she report the guy ages ago? Why didn’t she just cut her losses, like her friend said? Why did she have to go outside with him? But of course, those things are easy to see in hindsight, like most things, but weren’t necessarily apparent to her at the time.
So the poor girl gets her face slashed in a vicious attack orchestrated by Steve. If only they held a trial and put him and his cronies away, that would have been a sad story. Marla still has her scars, making a modelling career impossible. Unfortunately, it gets sadder. During the trial, the defence attorney makes her out to be a man-eater and a shameless hussy, using men to her advantage to further her career. From what we’ve seen of her throughout the film, nothing could be further from the truth. I felt outraged. Not only has she been attacked and disfigured, now she’s slandered too! Doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence about the justice system.
As an actual film, it’s low-budget and it feels low-budget. Nothing about it can really be called “great”, but it does its job very well. It tells Marla’s story, and because it’s so engaging (even to someone who couldn’t care less about people wanting to become fashion models), I still like it, and I sympathise with Marla. Small town girl with big dreams, trying to make a life in the big city – it’s universal.
And she does get to get funkeh with Eric too, so thumbs up and an “atta girl!” from me.
3.5 out of 5 modelling agencies.