What Just Happened (2008)
I don’t think I’m alone on this — Every so often, one re-visits a film that didn’t exactly set the world on fire upon its initial viewing, yet for whatever reason, on the second screening (maybe a month later, maybe six years later) said discarded and forgotten film suddenly plays a billion times better than you ever remembered it being. Such is the case (for me) with legendary director Barry Levinson’s Hollywood “reflection” tale, What Just Happened. Writer/Producer Art Linson calls it “A comedy with an Italian spin”, and having literally just finished watching the flick, I can’t for the life of me figure out what exactly provoked such a sour response (from me) in the first place.
If you fit between anywhere from liking to loving movies not about making movies, but more-so about living the life of making movies, playing the Hollywood blood-sucker’s game and just trying to come out the other side with maybe the slightest morsel of redemption, What Just Happened demands you dig it immediately. Before iconic-great Robert De Niro experienced a major comeback (I would say starting from around the time he co-starred in Limitless) there was indeed a prolonged period where I found myself longing for, at the very least, to see the actor’s name attached to films more consistently, lets say on par with his steady output that progressed throughout the 90’s.
Now while I use the word “comeback” to suggest a re-birth in De Niro’s own personal invested interest in acting again (because not every film he stars in lately is necessarily good) I don’t blame the actor, the agents, or the studios, I blame the times. I mean it’s not the 70’s, and De Niro can only do what exists out there nowadays, and it’s been pretty clear as of late, cinematically-speaking, we’re a long way from the Raging Bulls and Heats of the reel-world influencing the mainstream climate. So all the more reason, to praise one of the best contemporary De Niro performances to criminally get buried under the radar (I’ll advocate his role in Stone as well). It’s a shame too, because What Just Happened really did come out at a time when the actor just wasn’t appearing in as many films as he seems to be now. Accompanied by an ensemble of exceptional talent (John Turturro, Stanley Tucci, Robin Wright, Sean Penn, Bruce Willis, Catherine Keener, brilliant cult-fav Michael Wincott) De Niro reminds us what a welcome force of power he can be, even when acting in more comically inclined material such as What Just Happened — A farce about filmmaking, about the lives that make or break art into commerce.
So is What Just Happened a masterpiece? Say in the league of Robert Altman’s The Player or on the indier side of the filmmaking-biz, Tom Dicillo’s Living in Oblivion? Heck, no! But that being said, I still think it’s a witty, smart, sly watch that is powered by a kinetically frantic and confidant scene-chomping performance by one of the best actors to ever appear on-screen in anything. Now I can certainly understand that there’s an abundance of criticism that exists on this film calling it “aimless” or “messy”, but you know what. 2008 was a while ago, and peeping this film now… well it’s been some time since I’ve laid eyes on a good Hollywood satire/send-up — Oh, and what’s that? What Just Happened also happens to feature a uniquely fresh and endearing (energetic!) contemporary performance from Bruce Willis… well now I really don’t understand what movie I was watching six years ago, because I’m calling it now, What Just Happened is perfectly worthy of that oh-so coveted tinsel-town green-light.