What Just Happened
a movie review
"Power — you have it, want it, or are afraid of losing it." instructs Ben (Robert De Niro) the movie producer, as he lines up for a magazine cover portrait of Hollywood power brokers. Ben says that where you stand in the photograph, has direct bearing on your importance in the cut-throat business of the motion picture industry. How visible you are and who surround you, are as significant as the budget of your last assignment. The more money raised, the bigger players around, the more famous stars, the more clout you have for your next venture. These are the rules of show biz.
In this 2008 film version of Art Linson's best selling book by the same title, we get a quick glimpse of what a Hollywood producer's life is really like through the couple of weeks immediately preceding the photo shoot. As this short segment of Ben's life unfolds, we witness him struggling to mend his crumbling career, trying to balance some whacked-out characters in his life, while juggling ex-wives and fraying family relationships.
Ben needs a hit movie to stay on top of his game. It's been some time since he produced anything noteworthy. He is hoping that completing his latest film, entitled Fiercely, staring Sean Penn (playing himself), will get him back in power again. All he needs to do is smile, schmooze, manipulate, defer to others' opinions and stay the course until after the film gets made. This turns out to be more difficult than it sounds.
Among the obstacles Ben encounters, is Jeremy (Michael Wincott) the director of Fiercely — a chemically imbalanced drama king, who has enough grandiose ideas and creative self-indulgence to turn a deaf ear to any feedback. Jerremy's inebriated mind is way beyond a reality check, and his "inspirational artistry" sets studio exec Lou (Catherine Keener) on Ben's tail to "fix the problem," with a soft spoken, sophisticated vengeance.
Another hurdle proves to be Bruce Willis (playing himself), locked in ego battle with anyone within earshot, over modifying his appearance to meet production deadlines. Getting Willis to cooperate through his agent, Dick (John Turturro) triggers the latter's panic attacks and leaves Ben on his own, to negotiate a win-win situation, without alienating the star.
Nothing is as it seems. The friend who is asking for creative collaboration on a script, like Scott (Stanley Tucci), the writer, could be a foe, after your wife, money or your job.
Then, there is his second ex-wife (Robin Wright Penn). Ben still loves her and would like to get her back. She isn't sure but wants to keep her options open.
One incidence leads to another, rapidly changing the social environment. Ben, trying to cope with everyone's demands, rushes from conflict to conflict even as the sharks of ego and politics circle closer and closer in the waters of promised fame and fortune around him.
In spite of all the emotional turmoil, this is a dark farce. There are some genuinely amusing moments to lift the relentless stress of a man playing the corporate game, desperately trying to keep it all together in a shifting world, built on image and appearances.
De Niro portrays Ben with wry wit and smooth charm that make him perfect for the part and his interactions, weaving in and out of some impossibly surprising situations, result in an entertaining, fast paced, compassionately clever movie.
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