What Just Happened
Now Showing at: AMC Newport and Esquire Theatres
Review by: Larry Thomas
Most often, when Hollywood turns the camera on itself, the subject is frequently a star, a director, or a particular film. Occasionally the focus will be on a producer, as in the classic Vincent Minnelli film The Bad and the Beautifuk.
The latest venture in that vein is What Just Happened. The screenplay by Art Linson is based on his experiences as a producer in Hollywood. His resume includes many admired titles like Fight Club, The Untouchables, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, so he’s no slouch as a filmmaker, and has undoubtedly lived through moments like those depicted in this film.
In What Just Happened, Ben the producer has just finished a Sean Penn film that has the potential to be the box office dog of the century. The ice-cold studio head wants to make major cuts, which (a) makes Ben nervous, and (b) drives the British director to fits of frustration. At the same time, Ben is on the verge of beginning production on a new Bruce Willis movie, but that studio is unhappy with Willis’ weight and beard, and is threatening to cancel the project unless he comes around to their way of thinking. In the mix of daily coping, Ben must juggle two ex-wives, three kids, and having almost no down time or outside interests for himself.
The film is worth seeing for the cast alone. Robert De Niro is Ben, and it’s one of his best roles in years. Instead of doing variations on a theme from past characters, he manages to create a new memorable character, and really put himself into it. John Turturro is terrific in a small role as a nebbish agent who is afraid of his own clients. Stanley Tucci plays a screenwriter who may or may not be having an affair with Ben’s ex-wife, Robin Wright Penn. Catherine Keener plays the studio head to perfection, obviously with a nod to Sherri Lansing, in her days presiding at Paramount. Bruce Willis makes an impression as an egotistical, temperamental actor named…Bruce Willis. Although this gallery of top talent is terrific to watch, it’s DeNiro’s film, as he’s in almost every scene.
Directed quite nicely by Oscar winner Barry Levinson, who shot part of his big hit Rain Man in our town, What Just Happened is not only just another Hollywood bashing Hollywood film, but also a good character study of a guy who, although consumed by his career, may not just be the caricature of a evil producer. If you’re familiar with the movie business, or are in any way connected with it, there are several scenes that are laugh-out-loud funny in their absurdity, which are quite likely real-life occurrences from Hollywood legend. And to prove how dead-on this portrayal may be What Just Happened is not being released by a major studio, but rather by the independent Magnolia Pictures. Even with an A-list director, a sensational cast, and a terrific script, sometimes those in charge just can’t stand to look in the mirror.