The film industry is tough nut to crack. No matter how hard you work or how good you are at doing it, there is always a chance you will be knocked off for seemingly superficial reasons. One day you are up and the next day you are gone. Or so the saying goes. What Just Happened? chronicles the life of a producer and his descent down to the cellar. But is it really a scathing manifesto against the machinations of Hollywood? Or is it just one man’s soap opera story set against his failure as a producer and a husband?
Robert De Niro plays Ben, a quasi successful producer. He has two projects that he is working on at the same time, one in post production and involving a dead dog. The other is in preproduction and it involves a temperamental star. These problems are confounded by his messy personal life and the studio heads breathing down his neck. If he can’t solve these problems than his producing career is over.
What’s great about this movie are the supporting performances. Sean Penn, Bruce Willis, and Catherine Keener all riff on Hollywood stereotypes and clearly enjoy themselves while doing it. Bruce Willis plays an actor that refuses to shave his beard for an action star role. Sean Penn plays an actor who wants nothing more than to be edgy and Catherine Keener plays the icy queen role as a studio head. All three are interesting to watch and I wish there was more of them. Unfortunately, it is Ben’s story instead of theirs. Robert De Niro looks the part of uptight producer willing to do anything in order to make a picture, but he doesn’t act it. He just sort of lies there on-screen, going through the motions of his performance. This isn’t helped by the script that gives him literally nothing to do but to react to the situations that are thrown to him. There is also no bite to the situations he is given. Although you think that Catherine Keener is a bitch, there is no commentary that what she is doing to decimate a movie purely because of money. Nobody is asking why this has to happen, just that it does.
This movie isn’t terrible. It just wasn’t great. And that’s shame because it had a lot of potential. It could be an avenue to express the frustrations that the people involved with the Hollywood system in this movie can truly talk about. Instead it was a mostly boring feature with some small great moments. I guess we can’t win them all.