What Just Happened

Posted October 15, 2008 in Film

In 2002 Art Linson, the producer behind mega-hits as diverse as Scrooged and Fight Club, published an exposé of his years in Hollywood. The twist was Linson didn’t reveal scandal but banality. Even when popping pills, his brethren are as glamorous as a car salesman with a flask in his drawer; the homes and paychecks are bigger in Movieland, but the problems are just as petty. Unlike most behind-the-camera comedies—and most of his career—director Barry Levinson doesn’t add a gloss of satire to Linson’s script. Instead, he and star Robert DeNiro underplay their fictional producer Ben’s Worst Week Ever. Test audiences loathed the Sean Penn thriller he just wrapped and its wastrel director Jeremy (Michael Wincott, the latest actor to channel Keith Richards) refuses to cut the climactic dog murder. Worse, Ben’s next project is about to get scrapped because star Bruce Willis (playing himself, on ‘roid rage) refuses to shave his beard—a giant, President Garfield monstrosity that like the Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart feels alive and malevolent. Putting on the squeeze are studio boss Lou (Catherine Keener), the buzz machine, and the financial demands of his two ex-wives and three kids, particularly most recent ex Kelly (Robin Wright Penn) who expects $30,000 a month. (Kanye would cluck knowingly at the sight gag of Ben’s condo versus his former loves’ mansions.) Levinson’s insular film feels most alive in these mundane details. Ironically, only those who live them will be curious enough to see their lives flung whole onscreen like rotten tomatoes. (Amy Nicholson)


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