Saturday, March 7, 2009

Great Name for a Book---Bad Name for a Film

"What Just Happened" is one of those irritatingly wonderful films about the film business. While some would argue that movies about making movies don't hold general appeal, I beg to differ. In an age where box office grosses make news on par with weather and local crime, and celebrity shenanigans are part of our morning coffee, there is no doubt a fascination with what goes on behind the scenes.

"What Just Happened" takes the producer's point of view. A nicely controlled performance by his excellency, Robert DeNiro, leads the way. Even Katherine Keener is blisteringly perfect in the fierce role of the big, money-holding backer. DeNiro's "Ben" is struggling to finish a violent film directed by an obnoxious 'hot' director. Sean Penn is seen in the final bits of the film within the film, as the co-star, along with his beautiful white Pit Bull. Do they shoot the dog or not? Without spoiling the film, I can tell you that the way this film examines the audience reactions to violence, and the intricate spinning of those invested in the film, is just brilliant.

At times hilarious (one at first wonders why this big time film producer is living in a very modest apartment---we soon discover he's got a couple of houses in his past), at times touching (the symbolism of the easy chair between Ben and his ex-wife (the lovely Robin Wright-Penn), at times confirming our worst suspicions about actors (a brilliant subplot with Bruce Willis and his scruffy, deal-breaking beard), we see a slice of this very wacky, near-revolting Hollywood life. For those who read the book, by the way, they will recognize the Willis character as the twist on the true story of Alec Baldwin showing up for a film overweight and bearded.

This is a worthwhile film for those curious about "the industry" that I feel would have done better with a different title. I'm not sure if it had a theatrical run or went straight to video, but, in my lil' ol' opinion, a hip, thought-provoking and cerebral title works splendidly on book covers, but risks losing an audience who likes to know, at least to some degree, what they're in for. Case in point: "The Player." Need I say more?