Mon October 27, 2008
What Just Happened
A reasonable plot
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"In Hollywood, everybody can hear you scream" Tagline from What Just Happened
A celebrated producer who makes a mediocre film becomes almost immediately prey rather than hunter, or to use the metaphor of Barry Levinson's What Just Happened, he misses the corporate plane out of Cannes as the head of the studio goes on without him. Robert De Niro's Ben has just been put at the far end of Vogue's photo of the 30 most powerful producers in Hollywood.
Ben's narration of a hellacious week in Hollywood seems true at least from other films and three of my children, who make a living in that scene. Although Vincent Minnelli's The Bad and the Beautiful and Preston Sturges's Sullivan's Travels travel some of the same turf, they seem more vicious at times while this film seems less interested in cataclysm and more in showing the gambling nature of film production. What Just Happened is almost placid by comparison, but harrowing none the less as Ben grows uneasy about the film he's producing called Fiercely, directed by the loose-cannon Brit Jeremy Brunell (Michael Wincott), who is not above showing a dog being murdered. Although Ben has Sean Penn as the lead, the film is fated to die a half-baked international thriller, a definite loser even with a first-rate actor.
As it should be if life is fair, the illustrious producer on the downward slide has problems with his ex-wife Kelly (Robin Wright Penn) that parallel his current off-balanced career. Their attempts to break completely from each other through the help of a counselor have some of the film's best-acted scenes, especially De Niro underplaying as I haven't seen him in a while . That approach to the role helps to keep the balance between comedy and drama.
What Just Happened has not the "success at all costs" attitude of Robert Altman's The Player; however, it is a more trenchant satire because of this reasonable plot with a cast worth seeing.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time, which can be heard streaming at http://publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/ppr/index.shtml at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime at http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wcbe/arts.artsmain Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com