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Do you know that classic trait of Hollywood cinema that says you can't kill a dog in the movie? Well here's a film that makes fun of it, along with everything else that's wrong with Hollywood these days. You know, kind of like our short film Rick Jackson's Hollywood did. Except this one had a budget, and it stars Robert De Niro.
What Just Happened is an independently produced darkly comedic satire of Hollywood cinema based on the novel "What Just Happened? Bitter Hollywood Tales from the Front Line" by disillusioned film producer Art Linson. The plot follows the efforts of veteran Hollywood producer Ben, played by Robert De Niro, to handle an assortment of personal and professional problems ranging from discovering that his 17-year-old daughter was dating a Hollywood agent who has just recently killed himself, through trying to convince Bruce Willis to shave his beard, to trying to find out who his ex-wife sleeps with. However, his biggest problem is preparing the final cut of a movie for the Cannes film festival in which the director insists that a dog needs to be shot in the head for artistic reasons.
By now you can probably see that a movie like this had to be made as an independent production, co-produced by Art Linson as well as Robert De Niro himself, as no Hollywood studio would have anything to do with it under any circumstances. Fortunately we do have plenty of talented big name actors delivering stellar performances to give a truly authentic Hollywood feel to the movie. De Niro shines in the role of the aging producer who seems to be losing his touch, and Bruce Willis's portrayal of a caricature of himself is both brilliant and hilarious, if at parts disturbing. One of the true shining stars of the movie though is undoubtedly Michael Wincott playing Jeremy Brunell, the British arthouse director who absolutely insists that his movie needs to end with a dead dog no matter what the Hollywood studio executives think.
What Just Happened presents the struggle of Brunell as he fights for his artistic vision against the worst scum of Hollywood, hoping that his supposed friend Ben will have his back only to find that he is on his own in what seems to be a hopeless endeavor. Yet you'd be wrong to think that his efforts will prove to be completely in vain, so brace yourself for the finale where Brunell does bring an expertly foreshadowed surprise to the screening of his film in Cannes. Trust us, it is absolutely hilarious! Oh, and while you watch that scene, try to remember that What Just Happened was in fact screened at the Cannes film festival, albeit outside of competition.
With that in mind though, the biggest strength of What Just Happened is that it takes no sides, poking fun of multiple aspects of Hollywood filmmaking. Everyone gets it from pretentious arthouse directors who think that things like shooting an animal in the head is artistic to greedy short-sighted studio executives who refuse to take the risk of presenting a dead dog on screen because they're afraid of the public backlash, or from overpaid whiny primadonna actors throwing profanity-laden hissy fits and refusing to follow the instructions in the script to the producers of said movie who are terrified of trying out anything new. The one who perhaps gets ridiculed the worst is Ben himself who tries his best to lie and manipulate his way through his troubles only to find his efforts thwarted at every turn. Although a sympathetic character who is easy to root for, in a sense he is digging his own grave and it's hard to feel sorry for him. Let's just say that he fits in with the rest of the characters in this satirical portrayal of Hollywood just fine.
We highly recommend this movie for everyone who enjoys dark humor, but especially those of you who find that Hollywood needs a serious kick in the butt. What Just Happened delivers a hilarious buttkicking for everyone's viewing pleasure, as well as leave you something to think about the next time you watch the tunnel explosion scene in Roland Emmerich's Independence Day.
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