What Just Happened (2008) starring Robert De Niro, Michael Wincott, Robin Wright, John Turturro, Catherine Keener, Stanley Tucci, Kristen Stewart directed by Barry Levinson Movie Review

What Just Happened (2008)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Robert De Niro as Ben in What Just Happened (2008)

Art Imitating Hollywood Life

On first look "What Just Happened" looks like it is another movie about behind the scenes of Hollywood with a story about a producer dealing with temperamental actors and directors whilst also dealing with personal problems. But whilst based upon Art Linson's book "What Just Happened?: Bitter Hollywood Tales From the Front Line" it isn't some biting satire on the movie industry but more of a sitcom. So instead of taking stabs at the industry we get the more regular humour such as an over the top director and also the producer dealing with his ex wife sleeping with a screenwriter. It doesn't totally miss the opportunity to take a swipe at Hollywood as creativity being stifled in favour of product is a constant theme but "What Just Happened" isn't a biting satire and that is a shame.

Hollywood producer Ben (Robert De Niro - Stardust) is juggling a lot of things especially a director whose edgy creativity has not worked when it comes to test screenings of his latest movie and unless Ben can get him to re-cut the movie how the studio want there will be no trip to Cannes. But Ben also has to deal with a well known actor who has not only piled on a few pounds but refuses to shave off his bushy beard for his next movie. If that wasn't bad enough he is not only concerned by his teenage daughter who seems like she is upset but he is also dealing with feelings for his last ex-wife as he becomes aware she is sleeping with a screenwriter friend.

Michael Wincott as Jeremy Brunell in What Just Happened (2008)

So to enjoy "What Just Happened" you have to get in to your mind that this isn't a satire about Hollywood but a comedy about a producer with a lot on his plate. If you sit down to watch this expecting the dirt to be dug on the industry and its actors you are going to be really disappointed because the most biting it gets is to highlight that creativity is stifled in favour of profits. To be honest it is disappointing because even a movie which focuses on the chaos of a producer could have really dished the dirt on the industry but this feels all too safe.

Now as to the comedy as we basically follow Ben around for two weeks; well we have a variety of situations and characters. It makes "What Just Happened" feel like a sitcom about producer Ben who has to deal with an actor who won't shave, a studio boss putting pressure on him, quirky agents and an eccentric director who looks like he is on the way to becoming Keith Richards. All of which are fun ideas but lack the sharpness and bite to make any of the situations that Ben finds himself in either memorable or really funny. In truth the fun comes more from the acting with Michael Wincott stealing the movie as the over the top director Jeremy Brunell.

But that leads me to what in many ways is the movie's biggest problem and that is whilst we have quirky characters none of them with maybe the exception of Robin Wright as ex-wife Kelly is likeable. Every single character is self centred including Ben so whilst Robert De Niro makes him at times amusing it is impossible to warm to him and feel for him as he has to deal with so much chaos. Maybe that is true to real life, everyone in Hollywood is self-centred but it doesn't work in the context of "What Just Happened" when it isn't biting enough to make these characters fun in a dislikeable way.

What this all boils down to is that "What Just Happened" doesn't quite work and whilst has some amusing ideas about what goes on in the life of a Hollywood producer it lacks the sharpness and bite for it to really click.