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What Just Happened? movie poster

What Just Happened?

Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rated: R
Directed by:
Barry Levinson
Starring: Robert De Niro, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener, Michael Wincott, Stanley Tucci, Bruce Willis, John Turturro, Kristen Stewart, Lily Rabe
Released by: Magnolia Pictures

In Short: The creator of Good Morning Vietnam and the Perfect Storm takes on Hollywood, cinema-verité style, with almost too much verité.  
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Hollywood, We Hardly Knew Ye
What Just Happened? is Almost Too True to Life

In Hollywood, in case you didn't know, appearance counts for everything. That and making money. Oh, and loyalty. And if a good story gets told, so much the better.

What Just Happened? is one of the truest, scrappiest and by necessity most cynical depictions we've seen of the rhythms and pathology of America's dream factory. Director Barry Levinson (The Perfect Storm, Good Morning Vietnam) returns to his Diner roots with quirky characters in over their heads, albeit this time in a hypercharged milieu. Ben (Robert DeNiro) is a film producer whose existence is a series of rocks and hard places, with an in-your-face director and bottom-line-obsessed studio head, ex-wife No. 1, ex-wife No. 2 and their sundry offspring, as well as millions of dollars tied up in deals that could make it all vanish in an instant.

Bruce Willis, Robert De Niro, John Turturro and Stanley Tucci in What Just Happened? Robin Wright Penn and Robert De Niro in What Just Happened?

Ben requires steel cojones and the ability to lie as easily as breathing, and he's got the goods. Levinson surrounds him with equally layered (power-)players: Catherine Keener as the studio head, John Turturro as a hapless agent, Michael Wincott as an irrepressible director, and Sean Penn and Bruce Willis as themselves.

Our biggest quarrel with the film is its washed-out, cinema-verité look. L.A.'s shiny yellows, blues and greens are distractingly dull, and there's even a haze over indoor shots in production offices, sets and celebrity-owned restaurants, though it resulted in a nice effect on night shots of freeways.

Levinson has turned the old Hollywood ethos on its ear—What Just Happened? is true to its artistic vision and was made with a cadre of loyalists. Who knows if it will make any money. As for appearance, well, you have to appreciate it on its own terms. The result: What Just Happened? is a slice of (sordid) life in the true Levinson tradition.

Reviewed by Andrew Bender

PKR092308 (Updated: 10/16/08 KR)

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