I’m going to lay it on the line and confess that I do not worship at the alter of Barry Levinson. Some of his stuff is amazing – Good Morning Vietnam and Rain Man come to mind – some of his stuff is less-so – Wag The Dog and Man of the Year are two more recent examples. When I discovered that he’d paired with Robert deNiro – another actor whose more recent work cannot hold a torch to his output from even a decade ago – I had a feeling the movie could go either way.
The Saturday night movie got a consensus opinion form all who watched it. It was a movie nowhere near as good as the sum of its parts, but was never painful or boring to watch. Individual sequences worked, whereas other plot threads vanished. Not in the sense of getting lost in the kenetic energy of the protagonist’s producer lifestyle, but lost as though the film didn’t have the energy to wrap it up. We never discover the deal with the agent and the daughter, nor with the writer and the wife, nor with the lady from the restaurant. Maybe we’re to believe these are all threads lost in the main character’s zoom-zoom lifestyle, but the movie never gives us any reason to believe it’s that smart. Not least of which given the time spent on sofas.
As a Hollywood satire, there are funnier and more acerbic pieces of celluloid out there (Bowfinger is far more cynical; the late TV show Action is borderline acidic). The movie says nothing new about the movie business. We’ve all heard the stories of the onset tantrums and rows over nothing, ridiculous inflated egoes and outrageous creative differences. All credit to Sean Penn and Bruce Willis for a willingness to lampoon themselves, but there’s nothing too shocking here.
Maybe I’m being too harsh. Robert deNiro is better than he’s been in a while here, even if he seems on autopilot. He hasn’t quite imploded in on himself in the way that scenery-chewing Al Pacino has lately. Catherine Keener, Stanley Tucci, Michael Wincott and John Turtorro are competent as the two-dimensional archetypes of a cynical producer, a desperate writer, an arthouse director and a spineless agent respectively.
The comedy is light and broad, and rarely in bad taste. Even the ‘fun in funeral’ scene is relatively low key. In the era of rude and crude comedies, its good to see a bit of dignity in the genre. So, in conclsion, the movie comes with a cautious recommendation. It might make you chuckle every once a while, but there’s little of substance here.
It seems I’m just a little more positive than most.
What Just Happened is a satirical look at the Hollywood machine from director Barry Levinston, starring Robert deNiro, Michael Wincott, Catherine Keener, Robin Wright Penn, John Torturro and Stanley Tucci, with appearances from Sean Penn and Bruce Willis as themselves. It was released in the United States on the 17th October 2008 and in the UK and Ireland on the 28th November 2008.