Here is an important fact about James L. Brooks' "I'll Do Anything", originally it featured musical numbers but when test screenings didn't fair well the movie was changed, the musical numbers were dropped and the depth of intelligence softened. The outcome of this change means that for fans of Brooks here is a movie which takes on a familiar theme of a father having to look after his estranged daughter but does so with some non cliche aspects whilst with the father being an actor we also get a semi satirical look at the industry. For those who are not devotees of Brooks' movies we have a movie which feels unsure of what it is and whilst entertaining to approach a cliche idea in a new way often feels like it is misfiring.
Having once been nominated for an Emmy, Matt Hobbs (Nick Nolte - 48 Hrs) is a talented but also unsuccessful actor who struggles to get parts and whose belief in becoming an actor was pivotal in the break down of his marriage. When his estranged wife informs Matt he is going to have to look after their daughter Jeannie (Whittni Wright) long term it throws him in at the deep end having had little to do with her up bringing and to his horror his daughter is a precocious brat who is use to getting things her way. To make matters even more complex is the relationship he has formed with production assistant Cathy Breslow (Joely Richardson - King Ralph) who works for cynical producer Burke Adler (Albert Brooks) who is finding his action movies are falling out of favour.
Now the main storyline going on in "I'll Do Anything" is the familiar one of an estranged father and young daughter reconnecting. But this isn't some cliche filled storyline as it isn't about cheap laughs of a hopeless father even though Matt might as well be pulling his hair out with a daughter who screams uncontrollably when she doesn't get her way. Instead we have this slow transformation in relationship as Matt who initially thinks he is hopeless at being a parent slowly finds himself better at it than he expected.
This side of "I'll Do Anything" works because it puts a different spin on the familiar story but unfortunately we then get the other side of the movie which focuses on the movie industry. Now there are some brilliant scenes in this side, a scene where Matt is trying to get into character is spell binding but it feels very clunky at a times pretentious. I can only imagine that the removal of the musical scenes and the dumbing down of the storyline spoilt this side of the movie which may still work for devotees of James L. Brooks but not so much for those looking for easy entertainment.
It is a shame that this side of "I'll Do Anything" ends up spoiling the movie because there are a lot of good performances especially from Nick Nolte who delivers simultaneously gruff but kind. And Nolte works well with Joely Richardson whose character really feels like it has suffered due to the dumbing down of the story. But the standout performance comes from Whittni Wright as young Jeannie because whilst the character of Jeannie borders on the obnoxious it doesn't once feels like she is acting but just being a spoilt brat of a child who screams a lot.
What this all boils down to is that "I'll Do Anything" ended up a bit of a disappointment because whilst it does a good job of making a cliche father daughter storyline feel more original the entire movie ends up clunky and hacked around. It has that feel of having a good movie in there but things went wrong and that good movie ended up buried in the changes.