Art Linson has made several of my favorite films including Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Fight Club. As a producer, hes had a pretty good ride with the occasional clunker on his resume. While people seem to elevate the director as the creative force behind a film, the producer has the hardest job of all. Hes the real magician because he has to bring together the creative team and the cash to make it happen. A real producer is involved in every aspect of the film. Hes the one on the hook if something goes wrong or over budget. In the end it is the director who gets the glory in the reviews while the producer is pushed aside as just another name were forced to read before the movie starts. What Just Happened gives us a little insight into the life that Linson leads.
Robert De Niro plays the fictional version of Linson. Hes trapped between two troubled projects. During a test screening the audience really hates the ending of a Sean Penn movie. They dont mind a group of mobsters plugging the Oscar winner. What gets them upset is watching a dog get shot. Micheal Wincott is the director who refuses to back off the moment. This is his art. The film is slatted for Cannes. He doesnt want to look like a studio stooge in front of the French. The studio has already let De Niro know that they cant release the film with that ending. This is a perfect crisis to describe the role of a producer. They are smack dab at the point where artistic vision meets economic realities. De Niro needs to find a way to make everyone happy so theres smiles and a future at the end of the opening box office weekend.
A second film is about to enter production. Theres a major problem since Bruce Willis has grown a beard and refuses to shave. The backers of the film fear the beard will ruin the chances of a profit. If De Niro cant talk Bruce into visiting the barber, the red light will flash. It sounds stupid, but little things like this will spook the money and movie-goers. How many people were turned off by Miami Vice based on Colin Farrells mullet? Normally you calm their fears by casting the backers “niece” in a bit role. But when it comes to a big film, you got to really give them what they want. Willis doesnt want to lose the beard. Is he willing to wreck a film and send 100s of crew members home so he can look like Grizzly Adams?
The life of a producer isnt given too much glamor in the film. De Niro has a normal apartment. This isnt cause hes frugal with a dollar. Hes bought two great houses except they now belong to his ex-wives. The only thing he does have going for him is the ability to pick up women. His encounter with Moon Bloodgood in a mens room reminds us why a producer puts up with all the pressure. The only weird part is that even with the Hollywood lifestyle, the sex is rather normal for him. He goes to a therapist with his most recent ex-wife. When asked about any infidelity, the talk doesnt stray into any all night pool orgies. This is kind of a disappointment. Why do Hollywood people have to act like normal folks? Wheres talk of threeways, circus clowns and Mexican donkeys?
What Just Happened is a fun film that plays like the pilot to an HBO series. This is the adult version of Entourage. De Niro ought to make a few episodes of What Just Happened for TV. Hes perfect for the role with that desire to do anything to make the project a reality. He reminds us that the director isnt the only guy making the film.
The video is 2.40:1 anamorphic. The 1080p image looks stellar especially during the unfortunate dog footage. The audio is 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 5.1 Dolby Digital. The levels are good enough to hear DeNiro suck his breath when things keep falling apart around him. You also get to feel the silence when people refuse to react. The subtitles are in English and Spanish.
Audio Commentary with Barry Levinson and Art Linson is rather informative. Linson doesnt sound like a producer who wants to direct. Hes happy to let Levinson adapt his life. They had to hire actors to play producers in the Vanity Fair shoot because the real producers were getting nasty about their position next to the letters. Its life imitates art.
Deleted Scenes (7:06) continues the film from him being stranded in France. They had cut a “happy” ending for the movie. This really doesnt work with the tone of the film. The Vanity Fair shoot scene is played without the voiceover. It plays better this way. Ben visits his daughter at a dance studio. This moment doesnt add too much to the movie.
Behind the Scenes (2:47) brings us inside the intense pedicure scene. Who knew John Tuturros toenails could cause such a commotion. See what it takes to have a faux-Cannes moment.
Casting Sessions (1:00 to 6:00 each) lets us see how a dozen actors earned their supporting roles. Moon Bloodgoods audition is spicy. They follow up the raw video with the actual scenes. Whats nice is seeing Kate Burton reading her lines for the role of the marriage counselor since in the final cut the scene is shot from over her shoulder. Now her friends and family will know its really her and not a woman that sounds like her.
Making Of What Just Happened: From Book to Script to Screen (23:45) has De Niro, Linson and Levinson discussing how the movie came into production. They did this without studio funding and a tight 33 days schedule. Linson talks about how Fight Club horrified the studio suits and audiences. He knows the look of a studio executive who fears their careers are over because of a final cut.
No Animals Were Harmed in the Making of this Movie (1:59) has the dog talking to us about his fatal scene. He wasnt really shot.
What Just Happened is an insiders account that doesnt get too bogged down in the movie making process. We merely focus on the worst part of the job – managing egos. De Niro is perfect with his calm anger at the idiots around him. The look on his face at Cannes shows a man who has been betrayed, but cant reveal his true emotions in fear of ticking off everyone. If youre a fan of movies about moviemaking, this is must viewing. Where else are you going to squirm as a director gets his revenge on a studio?
Magnolia Home Entertainment presents What Just Happened?. Directed by: Barry Levinson. Starring: Robert DeNiro, Sean Penn, Robin Penn Wright and Bruce Willis. Written by: Art Linson. Running time: 104 Minutes. Rating: R. Released on DVD: February 24, 2009. Available at Amazon.com
Tags: Robert DeNiro, Sean Penn