The Queen of Hollywood Blvd is an inspired love letter to 70’s crime films and grindhouse fare. But the film goes beyond mere homage. It’s a moving character study in its own right, and much of this is due to the performance of Rosemary Hochschild in the lead role.
The film, which had its world premiere at Boston Underground Film Festival Friday, was written and directed by Orson Oblowitz. He cast his mother as Mary, the titular queen.
Mary owns a strip club in the seedy underbelly of Hollywood. She’s managed over decades to carve out a kingdom from nothing. But on the morning of her 60th birthday, she’s visited by Duke (a wonderfully creepy Roger Guenveur Smith), a mobster from Mary’s past. He reminds her of the money she owes him and informs her that he’ll be taking her club. Over the course of the day, Mary slips further into darkness as she fights to save her kingdom and eventually her son. All the while, the illusion that she ever had a hold on the American Dream slowly falls apart.
The Queen of Hollywood Blvd brims with visual poetry. It’s an aesthetic feast that revels in the neon and sleaze of Hollywood. Its sense of place is the soul of the film, and LA feels very much like the primary character. It’s a frightening entity, ready to eat hopeful dreamers alive. Oblowitz has a gifted eye for visual theme and storytelling. He treats location as its own character, and nowhere is this more apparent than the strip club at the heart of the film. Mary’s club is a dream world of pink light and neon, and it serves as a safe haven from the ruthless world of the city outside.
But as Mary’s life begins to unravel over the course of the day, Oblowitz adds surreal and ominous touches to the lighting and imagery of the film. With an aura of Dario Argento and David Lynch, The Queen of Hollywood Blvd is a revenge film with a shadow of horror underneath. The city itself is the horror, and its ruthlessness looms over every character.
As Mary struggles to hold on to the only home she’s ever known, she meets Grace (Ana Mulvoy-Ten) a teenage girl with dreams of being an actress. She’s the picture of innocence, and when she reluctantly applies to work in the club, Mary recognizes her as the frightened child she is. Over the day she takes the role of mentor and protector of Grace, clearly recognizing something of who she used to be in the girl. But she can’t fully shield Grace from the effects of the world around her, just as she can’t fully protect her son, her club, or the people she loves.
“It’s not often we get to see an older woman inhabit the characteristics usually reserved for hardened male protagonists..”
Rosemary Hochschild’s performance is wonderful. She creates a unique character, even as the influence of countless grindhouse film protagonists can be felt in her. It’s not often we get to see an older woman inhabit the characteristics usually reserved for hardened male protagonists. But Hochschild manages to make it all feel natural. She lives in the character so fully that even some of the less subtle moments of the film maintain an air of authenticity.
And this is of course grindhouse, so subtlety is not the name of the game. Nor should it be. The themes are big and the characters are archetypes. But the cast and script gives everything a feeling of realism and authentic emotion that balances it all out.
Oblowitz balances a lot of moving parts in the film, and while not everything always works, everything that needs to land does so with aplomb. The story both satisfies and surprises. The characters all get their time to shine, and the emotional moments hit hard. In one standout scene, Mary visits Chet, an old friend, for help in her struggle against the mob. Chet is played by genre legend Michael Parks in his final onscreen role. Parks’s performance is incredibly moving, with Hochschild’s performance and the script playing no small part in that. It’s a wonderful example of how The Queen of Hollywood Blvd balances style and emotion in equal measure.
Oblowitz is certainly a filmmaker that genre fans will be wise to keep an eye on. His next project, Home is Where the Hell Is, will be a straight horror film. I can’t wait to see how he applies his talents to horror. But until then, The Queen of Hollywood Blvd is a genre gem that any fan of underground cinema and crime film will do well to check out.