Barry Levinson’s latest is a look at Hollywood through the eyes of a big time producer who is dealing with crisis in all aspects of his life, and the result is a solid comedy that gives us a look into Hollywood behind the scenes.
Based off screenwriter Art Linson’s own book, the film is a reflection on his experiences as a producer through the eyes of the fictional Ben, who is warding off three crises over a two week period; one personal, two professional. First up for Ben is his personal struggle with trying to get back in with his most recent family which he has been estranged. As him and his ex work through separation counseling, Ben is trying to get back in and prove he is good for it. Making things hard on this front is the constant badgering he gets handling his professional crisis that keep getting in the way in his present as they did his past that was his downfall at home in the first place. The professional crisis in question is the re-editing of an egotistical director’s (Michael Wincott) film ending after a poor test screening that really went soar after a canine assassination in the end. Added to the mess is the production of his new film is in jeopardy due to the reluctance of Bruce Willis (Bruce Willis) to get into “leading man” form, and the constant posturing between the actor and producer.
Added into the mix is the powerhouse studio exec Lou (Catherine Keener) who is bringing down the pressure on the re-edit, a possible friend (Stanley Tucci) sleeping with his potential reconciled ex, and a gutless agent (John Tuturro) who can’t handle his client, Bruce Willis.
The movie moves at a leisurely pace and while never dragging, felt like it could have been a bit more brisk in its pacing. Regardless, the comedy is solid throughout, and the laughs are steady as you move along in the picture. Ben is the straight man in this mess, constantly remaining calm and collected (most of the time) while all hell is breaking loose around him. The divaness of the actors and directors in the film is played up just enough to seem believable, and sadly might be fairly accurate, but Ben’s professionalism keeps him from joining in on the madness.
The cast is littered with stars, with DeNiro playing a solid straight man, but one wishes there was a bit more life to the character throughout as we only get glimpses of his passion popping up from time to time. Ben is buy the books and plays his cards right, and DeNiro does that well in his portrayal as well and lets the others around him let the insanity take them over. Bruce Willis is great in his brief appearances as “himself” playing that diva actor to a T, but making it fun and parody enough that we can sit back and just laugh at him. Michael Wincott is great as Jeremy, the egotistical director, and he hams it up well as the borderline insane director holding on a bit too tight with his unwillingness to sacrifice anything in his picture. Robin Wright Penn is great as Ben’s ex, and plays the most real and genuine person in the film, even if she might be a liar too and her struggle with what to do with Ben really comes of the screen. John Tuturro didn’t quite work for me as the weak agent, in fact, one is left wondering why Bruce Willis would ever work with him in the first place which I think contradicts that character and ultimately ruins him for me. Catherine Keener plays the demanding studio head with a grounded and thoughtful swagger, which is much better then the overzealous idiot that that character would usually be played too; and for that I applaud her. Sean Penn even pops up from time to time as the star of Jeremy’s film, and provides just enough laughs for his bit role.
In the end, What Just Happened?, is an effective comedy, that doesn’t really seem to be breaking any new ground. Everyone is solid, and the film gradually builds up as it goes to a satisfying ending, but something is missing to really knock this one out of the park. A few jokes fall flat, Ben is a bit to reserved, and the film never really feels truly authentic. But with that said, I think it is worth your time if you are up for a Hollywood satire or are a fan of Entourage. And while it might not be quite as good as that show, it is entertaining none the less.