What Just Happened? Barry Levinson

What Just Happened? Barry Levinson
As a rare example of a film that’s far more amusing in hindsight than it is while viewing, Barry Levinson’s What Just Happened follows in his tradition of making sly satires that mock the trivialities and frivolities that overwhelm day-to-day life.

The comedy here stems from very specific character juxtapositions, which reveal priority imbalances and absurdity. While some may champion this very specific brand of humour, most will find it confusing, as they themselves are overwhelmed with the negligible things in life, and as such will take Levinson’s films at face value, missing the point entirely.

What Just Happened may not be as clever or as memorable as Wag the Dog or Bandits, spending far too much time on a milquetoast protagonist and humdrum "film cheat” jokes involving soundtrack changes, but enough wit is on display to make a viewing more than worthwhile. Scenes involving the various edits of the movie-within-a-movie dog shooting scene, as well as the Amores Perros reference and subsequent discussion about Sean Penn, manage to stay funny even after the credits have rolled.

The plot, like everything else in the film, is entirely trivial, following Ben (Robert De Niro), a Hollywood producer who spends more time with temperamental artistes and sycophants than he does the ex-wife (Robin Wright Penn) whom he desperately wants to reconcile with. When not trying to convince Bruce Willis to shave his beard, Ben is persuading a neurotic director (Michael Wincott) to cut a scene of a dog being shot in the head from the end of his film.

Pointing out that big league industry people are far more interested in networking and big names than they are in actual films is nothing particularly new. However, Levinson’s ability to make them all look like shallow, self-serving morons is both commendable and enjoyable. (Alliance)