A shallow but good-looking soap opera-like drama set in the world of high fashion, THE MODEL follows a 16-year-old coltish beauty from suburban Denmark as she tries to break into the big time in Paris, where predators with power are ready to prey on the naive and uninformed. The second feature from Danish helmer Mads Matthiesen (TEDDY BEAR, a 2012 Sundance prize winner) lacks that earlier film’s relatable humanism, but has been a big seller for TrustNordisk, perhaps due to its sexy, easy-on-the-eyes glamour and a pinch of psychological thrills a la BLACK SWAN.
Newspapers are full of articles about promising athletes who skipped college for the big leagues and then went off the rails due to their lack of maturity. Matthiesen makes a similar point here as he highlights how totally unprepared young Emma (20-year-old fashion model Maria Palm) is for the high-pressure, nastily competitive career to which she aspires. Arriving in Paris on her own, she winds up leaving a bad first impression as she arrives everywhere late. Emma’s agent Marcel (Virgile Bramly) helps her find an inexpensive shared bedroom with the cynical, jealous Polish model Zofia (Charlotte Tomaszewska, also a real-life model) within a large, well-located apartment belonging to the sleazy Bernard (Thierry Hancisse). Matthiesen emphasizes Emma’s innocence with the sole decoration on her side of the room: a photo booth snap with Frederik (Marco Ilso), the boyfriend she left behind.
After a go-for-broke Emma seduces the much older, charming womanizer Shane (Ed Skrein of DEADPOOL, THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED), a top fashion photographer who humiliated and fired her from her first gig, her career starts to look up. She lands a number of high-profile shoots as well as a glossy magazine cover. These eye-candy scenes, shot in collaboration with France’s L’Officiel magazine, have the verve and pace of the Fashion Channel. Emma’s dream of walking the catwalk for Chanel during Paris fashion week seems as if could be in reach, but some bad decisions she makes during a weekend away with Shane, lead him to break up with her. Caught in a downward spiral, she becomes more and more obsessed with him and makes further foolish choices.
The screenplay by Matthiessen and co-writers Martin Pieter Zandvliet and Anders Frithiof August is compelling up until the melodramatic, credulity-straining final act, although the characters, apart from Emma, feel underdeveloped. The co-scribes play in an interesting way with the concept of voyeurism: that which the models consent to as professionals, and the creepy peeping to which Emma is subjected in the apartment almost every time she steps into the shower. Of course, the audience’s gaze falls somewhere between the two. Beautiful non-pro Palm comes off as young and vulnerable enough to create sympathy for the too-trusting Emma and her obsession with Shane. She can be cruel, too, especially in her treatment of surprise guest Frederik. Tall, handsome shutterbug Shane could do with some more backstory; oddly, he doesn’t seem too worried when Emma confesses that she is actually jailbait. Left with not much to do, Tomaszewska’s Zofia lacks the presence and pizzazz to make persuasive a late turn of events. Overall, the mostly English-language dialogue sounds a bit stiff in the mouths of the non-native speakers.
As befits the subject matter, the well-turned production package is extremely handsome.