What Just Happened?
What Just Happened is a roman a clef, or I suppose maybe it should be
called a "cinema a clef," a fictionalized cinema version of real events that happened
to a film producer between 1997-2001, as recounted by screenwriter Art Linson.
One would have to call Linson the perfect choice to write this script for two
1. The screenplay was adapted from a non-fiction book written by Art Linson.
2. The real producer who lived through the events described in the book was
none other than the very same Art Linson.
Linson's book, "What Just Happened: Bitter Hollywood Tales from the Front
Line" covers the trials and tribulations of his role in creating six films:
- Heist (2001/I)
- Sunset Strip (2000)
Club (1999) (producer)
- Pushing Tin (1999)
- Great Expectations
- The Edge (1997)
The book is rich in "insider stories," and is gutsy. It shies away neither
from recounting the deeds and misdeeds of familiar industry figures, nor from
associating those deeds with their real names. And big names they are: Alec
Baldwin, David Fincher, David Mamet, and others.
The movie takes a more oblique approach. One of the major story lines comes
straight from the book with only the names changed, but the rest of the script is
primarily fictional, the product of consolidating and compressing real events
while inventing other incidents from whole cloth. The movie version of the
story has essentially consolidated Linson's six movie projects down to two,
and the book's four-year span into one very hectic week.
* One of the real films covered by the fictional story is The Edge. This is
the story line in which the movie version of What Just Happened stays quite
faithful to the real events portrayed in the eponymous book, right down to
long stretches of verbatim dialogue. Although Bruce Willis is playing a
character named Bruce Willis, it will take a diligent researcher only a few
minutes to thumb through the source book to find that the character is
actually Alec Baldwin. Baldwin decided to show up for filming with a Grizzly
Adams beard and an extra twenty pounds of flesh around his middle when the
studio thought it was paying for a lean and handsome leading man. When asked
to shave the beard and to go on a diet, Baldwin threw a legendary tantrum and
promptly fired the hapless agent who was chosen by the big-wigs to be the
bearer of bad tidings to the prickly star. Baldwin finally gave in under the
threat of massive litigation.
* The other story line is basically fictional, although it bears a certain
resemblance to Linson's experiences in trying to get David Fincher's edgy
Fight Club past the scrutiny of studio suits who were uneasy about the film's
dark themes and casual violence, and had no idea what a good film they had on
their hands until they saw the reaction at Venice. Linson took the basic
structure of that struggle and re-invented it, changing it into a familiar
tile about how the commerce of the film industry suppresses its art.
The life of a producer, as portrayed by Robert DeNiro as Linson's alter
ego, basically consists of running from fire to fire and splashing water on
each, but often leaving the fires smoldering and ready to burst back into
flames because he's working on three major projects at once and can't give any
of them his undivided attention. A director is finishing off one film in
post-production, and is locked in an angry struggle with the studio, which has
threatened to take his film away unless he cuts it their way. Meanwhile, a new
film is about to start filming, and all the crew is on the clock - pending a
Bruce Willis shave. Finally, a third film needs financing, and the producer is
the guy who has to come up with the investors. The producer is always the man
in the middle who has to balance the delicate egos of directors and stars with
the realistic demands of the studios and independent investors who quite
reasonably would like to get a return on their investments. He has 30 hours
worth of work to do in every 24-hour day, and almost all of it consists of
stressful crisis management. Moreover, he still has a personal life which
cannot be ignored: an ex-wife he still loves and a daughter who is growing up
I found this a very interesting film, especially since I read Linson's book
just before popping in the DVD, so I knew which characters were representing
which real people. Of course, I'm interested in the subject matter anyway,
since I write every day about the film world and its inhabitants. My guess is
that the film will not be nearly as interesting to you if you lack my
enthusiasm for the industry and my ambition to read the book (which, by the
way, is now available in a new edition which includes the screenplay for this
Unfortunately for those of you who are not film geeks, this story is not
funny enough to work as a comedy and is not original enough to work as an
insider drama. Linson has the necessary insight and connections, and he told
the truth about what he saw, but we've already seen many similar
variations on these same themes in dozens of earlier films. And even I found
the stories more interesting in the book's version, with the real names
and places attached.
The only nudity is a very brief flash from a totally unnecessary and
undeveloped character, an industry wannabe with whom DeNiro has a one-night
stand. The actress is Moon Bloodgood.
Film clip here.
Tale of the tape:
The distributors had no faith in this film. It never reached more than 88
theaters in North America, and it grossed only about a million dollars.
The notices were so-so. 54% of the reviews were positive, but that figure
dropped to 44% among the main critics. Roger Ebert's evaluation was ** out of