What Just Happened stars Robert DeNiro as Ben, a Hollywood Producer who is dealing with a difficult time both in and out of the business. This film was released in 2008 to little fanfare, took a largely critical drubbing and was a box office disaster. The film was reportedly made for $25 million and grossed just over $1 million domestically and $3 million total worldwide. Still, the film has its merits that warrant inclusion as a film you likely missed.
Ben is balancing a divorce, a Sean Penn starring film “Fiercely,” which is in its final cut before premiering at Cannes and a new action film starring Bruce Willis, which is under major duress due to a prickly issue with its star. What Just Happened is essentially a satirical, yet seemingly realistic snapshot of the movie business from an insider’s viewpoint. Directed by Barry Levinson, the film has the trappings of one worth seeing if you seek a look behind the scenes in Hollywood.
“Fiercely” has an unhappy and gruesome ending, where a dog is murdered at point blank range. The film test scores reveal it needs changes if it hopes to earn some of its anticipated losses back. Ben struggles with the director (a genius Michael Wincott) to get him to sell his soul to change the ending. Ben is receiving pressure from the studio head, played by Catherine Keener, to make the changes or risk killing its Cannes premiere. While it appears the changes are eventually made, they might not be just as planned.
Meanwhile, Ben’s wife is sleeping with a screenwriter, played by Stanley Tucci, who wants to work with Ben on a future project starring Brad Pitt. But Ben sees an inherent conflict of interest due to the personal nature of his affairs. Also, Ben’s film with Bruce Willis may get scrapped all together because the charismatic lead is off the artistic deep end, having gained significant weight and grown a scraggly beard when the film is in need of a clean cut, action hero. The jokes aren’t loud guffaws, but relatable for those that know a bit about the industry itself. Robin Wright Penn, Kristen Stewart and John Turturro add to the strong cast. There is enough to go around here to please film fans.
It’s understandable why the film didn’t do well financially. It is a dark comedy and not a particularly neat portrayal of the struggles of the life of a powerful Producer. However, the film features some solid acting, a good storyline and a realistic look at the trials and tribulations of the film game. While this ground has certainly been covered before, its still a movie worth seeing if you are interested in the film business, even though the results aren’t a great film per se. While this one wouldn’t have lasted at Cannes, it still may be worth your time.