What Just Happened
Review by Jack Foley
GIVEN the talent that’s gone into making Hollywood satire What Just Happened, audiences can be forgiven for expecting a great deal more.
Barry Levinson’s film is reasonably entertaining and boasts some good performances but it’s less biting than it could have been and fails to juggle the comedy and drama as well as TV show Entourage.
Ben (Robert De Niro) is a middle aged Hollywood producer trying to juggle two ex-wives and two different families with his latest business venture – the “visionary” movie Fiercely, starring Sean Penn (playing himself).
When Fiercely looks like becoming an audience-offending flop, Ben is told by hard nosed studio chief Lou (Catherine Keener) that it will only see the light of day if its drug-addled director Jeremy (Michael Wincott) re-cuts the finished product. But persuading Jeremy to do so is more difficult than it seems.
Meanwhile, another of Ben’s film project is hanging by a thread because of the artistic temperament of his leading man, Bruce Willis (again playing himself) and the producer must find a way to keep everyone happy while keeping grip on his sanity.
Based on the novel What Just Happened?: Bitter Hollywood Tales From the Front Line by screenwriter Art Linson, the film works best when examining – or exposing – the cut-throat, back-stabbing and totally unstable nature of the Hollywood film industry as a whole.
Insights into test screenings, changed endings and audience manipulation feel all too real, while the likes of Penn and Willis, in particular, appear to be having fun parodying some of the more hysterical elements of film celebrity.
De Niro, too, wears the look of a very troubled man extremely well and is arguably on better form than he’s been for quite some time.
But sadly, the film as a whole fails to measure up to the sum of its parts. Linson’s screenplay feels like it’s pulling a lot of its punches and could also have benefited from shedding some of the romantic complications in Ben’s life. His estranged relationship with ex-wife Kelly (played by Robin Wright Penn) really does upset the smooth flow of proceedings.
And with a cast as star-studded as the one assembled – it also includes Stanley Tucci, John Turturro and Kristen Stewart – it’s hardly surprising to find that not everyone gets the screen-time they warrant and probably deserve.
What Just Happened is therefore more of an honourable failure than a rip-roaring success.
Running time: 102mins
UK DVD Release: April 27, 2009