Who knew how much trouble a dog and a beard could cause. Granted, if you applied some imagination you could come up with all sorts of scenarios – “stray bit of sausage caught in beard attracts big scary dog”, or “excited puppy spoils child’s Christmas by running away with Santa’s fake beard”. Perhaps there’s a film somewhere in those thoughts…
Anyway, the original question should have added “for a Hollywood producer”, because that’s the focus of this film. Based on the exasperated book by producer Art Linson , What Just Happened looks at two weeks in the life of big-time producer Ben, played by a calmy collected Robert De Niro. Poor Ben has to deal with beards and dogs, and neither of them make his life easy. In fact, they sort of ruin it, leading to the question of the film. It’s fascinating to see such bizarre power-plays and politics, but also ever so slightly depressing when you see how money can easily beat any form of artistry. Or facial hair.
So we have a sort of behind the scenes film, latched on to Ben’s complicated lifestyle as a double ex-husband and father. There are some neat touches, with Ben listening to his latest film’s soundtrack which cleverly matches various pieces of action in his life, and a cracking performance from Bruce Willis playing himself as an angry, bear-like buffoon, crashing around sets and intimidating the staff.
But the struggle with this was in figuring out its tone. Almost slap-stick comedy mixes with abstract moments, sitting against a fairly straight realist backdrop. See, you can’t put it up there like it’s a expose of life behind the camera, keeping soundtrack to car stereos and following characters around docu-style, then throw in a random arty close-up of M&Ms or a superfast edit. Well, you can. And it’s never a bad thing to play with styles. But here it seems to jar, making it difficult to settle into. Just as you’re getting used to watching Ben’s issue-laden relationship with his ex-wife, you suddenly get John Turturro’s flamboyant comedy acting. Separately either would be great, but together they just don’t mesh.
De Niro coasts, playing it undoubtedly well but not particularly tested, and plot-wise the after-effects of “what just happened” would probably have offered more room for exploration than just charting the events that create the thorn in Ben’s side. Still, it’s an interesting peak into the torturous world of a producer, and the dog scene is darkly fabulous. Not much of a comedy, more a wry journey with the occasional titter, What Just Happened is an odd-one but saves itself with its original – and true - subject matter, and therefore slinks in with a recommended CF0.