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What Just Happened turns a producer’s real-life experiences into comedy

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: A Good Day To Die Hard has us thinking about less-heralded Bruce Willis movies.

What Just Happened (2008) 
Hollywood writer-producer Art Linson has written two books about the ups and downs of moviemaking—1993’s A Pound Of Flesh and 2002’s What Just Happened—and in 2008, he collaborated with Barry Levinson on a fictionalized version of the latter, starring Robert De Niro as a put-upon producer going through a tough week on the job. He’s dealing with an ex-wife who may be sleeping with his best friend, a studio head who thinks he’s a loser, and a director who’s sabotaged their big Cannes-premièring blockbuster by ending the film with a scene of a cute dog getting its head blown off. But one of his biggest headaches is a star—played by a hilariously jerky Bruce Willis, as “himself”—who refuses to shave his beard for his latest action role. The Willis storyline is based on Linson’s experiences working with Alec Baldwin on The Edge, and it distills the particular difficulties of managing Hollywood egos while still trying to produce a product the public will want.

What Just Happened is all fairly standard movies-about-movies material, but it’s funny, and captures the business side of show business with an only slightly jaded eye. (As a producer, Linson feels the need for compromise is as vital as the need for artistic integrity.) De Niro is on-point as a stressed-out guy trying to hold onto what little power he has, and Levinson does as good aging directors often do, letting scenes play on until he finds the right level of beautiful chaos. But Willis though, paunchy and disdainful, makes the biggest impact in his few short scenes. What Just Happened is all about the casual lies people tell each other every minute in Hollywood—right down to something as basic as how far away they are from a scheduled meeting—and Willis shows how savvy stars can exploit the fear of honesty and the massive amounts of money on the line, and just be a pain in the ass, for grins.


Availability: Available on Netflix Instant and other streaming services, for download from various online retailers, and on DVD and Blu-ray from Magnolia.

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