So you’re watching Hollywood Movie, starring, say, Male Lead Played By Well-Known Actor (for simplicity’s sake, let’s say Steve Carell) and Female Lead Played By Well-Known Actress (say, Amy Adams), and Actress’s character comments on her crush on Tom Cruise, to which Actor’s character responds that Angelina Jolie is way more bangable.
What’s really going on here?
Obviously Hollywood Movie is fictional, but scenes like this happen in films all the time, where recognisable actors refer, in character, to their real-life Hollywood peers. What are we to make of these moments?
One assumption is that Hollywood Movie is, in fact, set in an alternate reality where the actors Steve Carell and Amy Adams don’t exist (or at least, where they’re not Hollywood stars); however, a couple of regular, ordinary, non-famous characters who happen to look exactly like our reality’s Steve Carell and Amy Adams do exist.
Alternatively, we can assume that Hollywood Movie is set in our reality, and is about a couple of regular, ordinary, non-famous people who happen to look exactly like the film stars Steve Carell and Amy Adams. The problem with this assumption, though, is that you then have to wonder why none of Hollywood Movie’s other characters (played, presumably, by yet more well-known actors and actresses) ever notice Male Lead and Female Lead look awfully like Steve Carell and Amy Adams. Or why Male Lead and Female Lead never notice every significant person in their lives also looks like a Hollywood actor((Steal this idea: a comedy about a town whose residents do realise they all look like Hollywood actors, and open some sort of impersonation theme park! Charlie Kaufman, are you available to write this thing?)).
The only film I can think of that explicitly addresses this conundrum is Ocean’s Twelve, which has Julia Roberts playing Tess, a woman who looks exactly like Julia Roberts and impersonates her to gain advantage. Yet this just raises more questions – why doesn’t anyone remark on Danny Ocean’s resemblance to George Clooney? Or on Rusty’s resemblance to Brad Pitt, or on Linus’s resemblance to Matt Damon, et cetera?
It seems Ocean’s Twelve is a clumsy mishmash of both of our earlier assumptions: it’s set in an alternate reality where Clooney et all don’t exist, but in which Roberts does exist.