What Just Happened?

What Just Happened?

***

Reviewed by: Maria Realf

With Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson in the helmer’s seat and a whole host of Hollywood heavyweights on board, including Robert De Niro, Sean Penn and Bruce Willis, the expectations for What Just Happened? were high. Unfortunately, as it turns out, Not Much Happens at all.

Based on the bestselling memoir of Hollywood producer Art Linson (who adapted his book into a fictionalised screenplay), the movie admittedly has its fair share of enjoyable moments. However, the countless sub-plots and secondary characters thrust into the mix prevent any of them from being explored in real depth. It’s the cinematic equivalent of Morris dancing: there’s lots going on, it’s entertaining enough – but you’re not entirely sure what the point is.

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The film follows beleaguered producer Ben (De Niro) over a two-week period as he prepares for the release of his latest venture Fiercely: a controversial flick starring Sean Penn. The test screening has flopped, mainly because of a scene in which a dog gets shot to smithereens (the audience doesn’t bat an eyelid when Penn’s blasted, but there’s uproar when the pooch gets popped), leaving Ben to face the wrath of the studio chief (Catherine Keener).

On top of all that, he’s forced to contend with a drug-addled director (Michael Wincott), his former wife (Robin Wright Penn), his secretive teenage daughter by a different ex, a cowardly agent and an alarmingly hairy Bruce Willis. Somehow he’s got to find a way to cope with all the bitching, backstabbing and Tinseltown tantrums… and still make it to Cannes in one piece.

On paper, this sounds like a brilliant premise – a high-brow hybrid of Entourage and How To Lose Friends And Alienate People. But unlike both of these, it lacks a pivotal ‘lovable jerk’ the likes of which Jeremy Piven and Simon Pegg pull off so well. The character who comes closest is the rebellious director, and Michael Wincott hams up his hissy fits with relish. However, it’s hard to feel much sympathy for producer Ben, who’s every bit as flawed as the egotists around him.

Credit must go to Bruce Willis, though, for playing a nightmare version of himself – and an extra-special mention should go to his big, bushy beard, which really deserves star billing in its own right. The scene in which he’s asked to shave it off – and responds by hurling both obscenities and the furniture – is one of the film’s finest.

There are several other entertaining moments, and the movie does manage to make some smart observations about the madness of La-La Land. Yet although you may crack the odd wry smile, there’s little that’ll leave you laughing out loud (aside from Bruce’s beard).

In fact, just as Ben struggles to be all things to all people, so the film suffers a similar fate. It’s not funny enough to be one of the classic comedies, romantic enough to be a great love story, or clever enough to be the razor-sharp satire it likes to think it is. But on the bright side, at least it should fare better with filmgoers than the fictional Fiercely…

Reviewed on: 31 Oct 2008
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What Just Happened? packshot
A desperate film producer tries to stop his latest project (and himself) from going into meltdown.
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Director: Barry Levinson

Writer: Art Linson

Starring: Robert De Niro, Robin Wright Penn, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener, Bruce Willis, Michael Wincott, Stanley Tucci, John Turturro

Year: 2008

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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Sundance 2008

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