What Just Happened?

In 2002 Art Linson, the producer behind mega-hits as diverse as Scrooged and Fight Club, published an expose of his years in Hollywood. The twist was that Linson didn’t reveal scandal but, rather, banality. Even when popping pills, the characters come across about as glamorous as a car salesman with a flask in his drawer; the homes and paychecks may be bigger in Movieland, but the problems are just as petty. Unlike the makers of most behind-the-camera comedies, director Barry Levinson doesn’t add a gloss of satire to Linson’s script. Instead, he and star Robert De Niro underplay their fictional producer Ben’s Worst Week Ever. It seems that test audiences loathe Ben’s new Sean Penn thriller, and its wastrel director Jeremy (Michael Wincott, the latest actor to channel Keith Richards) refuses to cut the climactic dog murder. Worse, Ben’s next project is about to get scrapped because star Bruce Willis (playing himself, on ’roid rage) refuses to shave his beard – a giant President Garfield monstrosity that, like Poe’s tell-tale heart, feels alive and malevolent. Putting on the squeeze are studio boss Lou (Catherine Keener), the buzz machine, and the financial demands of his two ex-wives and three kids, particularly his most recent ex, Kelly (Robin Wright Penn), who expects $30,000 a month. (Kanye would cluck knowingly at the sight gag of Ben’s condo versus his former loves’ mansions.) Levinson’s insular film feels most alive in these mundane details. Ironically, only those who live them will be curious enough to see their lives flung whole onscreen like rotten tomatoes.

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