Movie Review – What Just Happened

what just happenedThe long tradition of Hollywood poking fun at itself continues with What Just Happened, a movie that deals with a hectic week in the life of movie Producer, Ben (Robert De Niro), in Barry Levinson’s long awaited return to the big screen.

Ben is introduced to us as one of the 30 most powerful men in the business – a mover and shaker in the industry with respect, influence and power. That veneer is then quickly stripped away to reveal a man hopelessly compromised by the conflicting interests he has to juggle – charged with the management of almost impossible situations and yet in reality having little or no control over any of them.

He hides this ineffectiveness with activity. He is constantly in motion – always on the phone, taking meetings, or driving back and forth from one or another of the many disasters that are taking place around him. As a father he is more of a chauffeur – an interested bystander in the lives of his children and ex-wives. As a Producer he plays moderator between the ball breaking studio executives, and the childlike, tantrum throwing talent as they try to defend the artistic purity of their work.

Michael Wincott embodies that side of the business perfectly, playing the precocious, drug addled and temperamental Director Jeremy Blundell. Tip of the hat to Bruce Willis as well, who plays himself but is channeling Joaquin Phoenix as the star of an upcoming film with a determined vision of how his character should appear. Also keep an eye out for Stanley Tucci, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener and John Turturro who help round out a great supporting cast.

I loved the soundtrack – including the work of  Ennio Mariccone  is always a good idea in my opinion, and I thought the melodramatic strains of Dire Straits’ ‘Brothers in Arms’ juxtaposed the absurdity of the scene it was playing in brilliantly.

As a satire, this doesn’t always hit the mark and at times looks a little stale around the edges. I’d be surprised if too many Hollywood types found this particularly biting – we have seen other films take a sharper scalpel to the gelatinous underbelly of the industry before. Having said that, this movie is accessible to folks who may not be thoroughly versed in Hollywood insider culture, and features some genuine comedic highlights.

There’s also a kind of sadness here as well. You feel for De Niro’s character by the time the credits roll. He is a man who is subjected to the whims and inclinations of some pretty unpredictable forces; agents who don’t like breaking bad news to their clients, Directors who refuse to let outsiders sully their work, actors whose creative sensitivity often places them at odds with the real world, and studio bosses who would happily cook and eat their own young if the bottom line could be improved by doing so.

Add to that the liberal use of both recreational and medicinal drugs, the regular therapy sessions and the complexity of his convoluted personal life, and what you get is a man forever torn between the competing pulls of art, finance, love and practicality.

Which is probably as a good a metaphor for Hollywood as any.

Rating – 6/10

Random Quote – “Hunter S. Thompson once said to me, ‘the movie business is a cruel and shallow money trench where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs. And then he added, ‘there’s also a negative side’.”

Random Actor You’ll Recognize From Somewhere Else – Kristin Stewart from Twilight and Adventureland plays Ben’s daughter Zoe here.

Previous Movie Review – State of Play

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One Response to “Movie Review – What Just Happened”

  1. Terminator Salvation « Cinestuff Says:

    […] Previous Movie Review – What Just Happened Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)5.29.09 Parent NewsletterParents Weekly NewsletterNo TitleMovie Recommendations for May 22: ’Terminator Salvation’ & More […]

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