Dir: George Hickenlooper. US. 2006. 90mins.

Sienna Miller does more than effectively capture doomed but beautiful 1960s pop art icon Edie Sedgwick with Factory Girl, George Hickenlooper's portrait of the Andy Warhol-anointed superstar that also conveys the elegant grunginess of the era.

In the US, where Factory Girl enjoys a one-week Oscar-qualifying run in LA from Dec 29, the feature may find the going tough. Sedgwick's following among arty hipsters qualifies her as a cult object at best, limiting reach even among non-multiplex audiences (although the film has generated publicity through Bob Dylan's attempts to block release amid claims about one of the characters).

Expect Factory Girl to play in the same sub-$5m range as two other Andy Warhol pictures: Julian Schnabel's Basquiat (1996), with David Bowie as a 1980s Warhol; and Mary Harron's I Shot Andy Warhol (1996), set during the same decadent period as the new film and with Jared Harris as Warhol.

It is likely to be too edgy and alternative in both its style and subject to attract enough interest from voting bodies, especially during a strong year for best actress contenders - something it will need if it is to successfully widen its rollout. It opens the Santa Barbara Film Festival later this month.

In the UK, where the film enjoys a release through Paramount on Feb 9, Factory Girl may play comparatively better due to the profile of Miller, as well as, to a lesser extent, awareness of Guy Pearce, who plays Warhol on this occasion.

Bookended by faux interviews with a post-Warhol Sedgwick in rehab for drug abuse, Factory Girl moves quickly from her 1965 departure from Radcliffe College, Massachusetts, to her arrival in New York and introduction to Warhol at an art show. Along the way, it establishes that she's an heiress from California who has serious family problems.

But when an old college friend introduces her to an unnamed folk-rock superstar (called Billy Quinn in the credits but clearly meant to be Bob Dylan), tension develops. He disdains Warhol's soup cans and avant-garde films as pretentious and hates how Warhol dangles celebrityhood in front of his retinue instead of paying them cash. But he's cruel and cold himself, and when his affair with Edie ends she falls into a tailspin. (Sedgwick died from a drugs overdose in 1971 when she was 28.)

Hickenlooper, a veteran film-maker whose last feature was a lively documentary on LA pop-culture figure Rodney Bingenheimer (The Mayor Of Sunset Strip), frames Factory Girl like a swinging pop-art happening full of eye-catching montages, split-screen images and changes from colour to grainy black-and-white footage.

The screenplay credited to Aaron Richard Golub and Captain Mauzner (from a story by Mauzner and Simon Monjack) is flawed and facile in the way it ascribes Sedgwick's problems simply due to seeking male role models better than her abusive father. But the writers have created some wonderful scenes and dialogue that play like truth observed, as when a smug, contemptuous Quinn visits Warhol's Factory for a screen test.

Miller subsumes herself into the young woman's sexy yet childlike essence and aura, all blonde wig, black eye makeup and alluring short dresses and leggings. She successfully mainlines how Sedgwick's incandescent smile and purring voice conveyed optimism while her nervous laugh and jittery need to find new confidantes hinted at an underlying melancholia.

Guy Pearce is similarly memorable in a quieter way as Warhol, whose guileless nonchalance hides an insecurity and, ultimately, passive-aggressive cruelty. Together he and Sedgwick make a Fellini-esque pair, the bizarre auteur and his waif-like starlet/companion.

Dylan aficionados probably won't know what to make of Christensen's appealing but unusual turn, which is too idiosyncratic - perhaps deliberately so for legal reasons - to be immediately recognisable. But the slurring way he says 'babe', the brown leather jacket and the attitude, always on a precipice between meanness and tenderness, eventually establish him as the icon circa Blonde On Blonde.

Editor Dana Glauberman seamlessly assembles the pieces of footage together as a whole, and it is all driven by a boisterous soundtrack of obscure pop-rock oldies from the likes of The Newbeats and The Strangeloves. End credits include short remembrances of Sedgwick by those who knew her.

Production companies/backers
Bob Yari Productions
L.I.F.T. Productions

International sales
Myriad Pictures

US distribution
MGM/The Weinstein Company

Executive producers
Bob Weinstein
Harvey Weinstein
Bob Yari
Simon Monjack

Holly Wiersma
Aaron Richard Golub
Malcolm Petal
Kimberly C Anderson
Morris Bart

Aaron Richard Golub
Captain Mauzner
from a story by
Captain Mauzner
Simon Monjack
Michael Grady

Dana Glauberman

Production design
Jeremy Reed

Edward Shearmur

Main cast
Sienna Miller
Guy Pearce
Hayden Christensen
Jimmy Fallon
Illeana Douglas
Edward Herrman
Mary-Kate Olsen
Tara Summers
Mena Suvari
Mary Elizabeth Winstead