WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
Film producer Ben (Robert De Niro) is trying to balance the tug-of-war between two ex-wives and two different families, with his latest, the boldly 'visionary' movie, Fiercely, starring Sean Penn (playing himself) - while everything goes badly wrong. Fiercely looks like an audience-offending flop which draws the ire of studio chief Lou (Catherine Keener), who forces him into tangling with the film's rebellious and drug-addled director, Jeremy (Michael Wincott). Meanwhile, he's confused by his ex, Kelly (Robin Wright Penn), who can't make up her mind about him; shocked by his daughter Zoe (Kristen Stewart), who seems to have grown up overnight; infuriated by his screenwriter friend Scott (Stanley Tucci) who's trying to make a deal with him while making moves on his former wife; horrified by a hirsute Bruce Willis (playing himself) and flummoxed by Willis' agent Dick (John Turturro), who's scared to death of his own clients.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Just like nerve wrecked Ben (Robert De Niro), Barry Levinson spreads himself too thinly over material that the covers of a book can contain and manage, but which defeats a 100 minute movie - no matter how talented the writer, director and the cast. It's not a flop, by any means, but there are little disappointments dotted throughout, amidst the highlights.
Each of the elements stacks up fine: Sean Penn as himself in a movie directed by a self obsessed English director who is over the top, over the edge and under the weather most of the time. It's a caricature performance by Michael Wincott, although the character is not entirely far fetched, I fear.
John Torturro's talent agent character, Dick, is also whipped into overdrive, as is Bruce Willis, playing a ghastly version of himself. By contrast, Robin Wright Penn is beautifully centred and controlled as the dithering ex wife, and De Niro captures the desperation and diplomacy that combine to make a producer's life hell. As for Catherine Keener, she steals the show with her cool, nay, icy studio boss, who can smile at the same time as planning your career death. There's not much chance to see anything else about her, but then perhaps there isn't anything else to her ... what you see is what she lives.
The film must have great resonance in Hollywood, which loves nothing more than to see its innards hung out in proud dirty linen fashion, but the nebulous structure and meandering storytelling - with a scant punchline - leaves the rest of us a little dissatisfied. The aforementioned highlights, by the way, include Bruce Willis spitting the dummy in a big way, a funeral scene in which De Niro's Ben realises his 17 year old daughter (Kristen Stewart) is not a virgin, a phone conversation between Ben and Dick while Dick suffers stomach cramps, and a few scenes of quiet desperation as the players try to salvage bad situations.
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WHAT JUST HAPPENED? (M)
CAST: Robert De Niro, Sean Penn, Bruce Willis, Robin Wright Penn, Stanley Tucci, John Turturro, Catherine Keener, Kristen Stewart
PRODUCER: Barry Levinson, Mark Cuban, Robert De Niro, Art Linson, Jane Rosenthal
DIRECTOR: Barry Levinson
SCRIPT: Art Linson (book by Linson)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Stephane Fontaine
EDITOR: Hank Corwin
MUSIC: Marcelo Zarvos
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stefania Cella
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 21, 2009