What Just Happened?


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

What Just Happened is a roman a clef, or I suppose maybe I should say a "cinema a clef," a fictionalized 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 main reasons:

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 producing six films: Heist (2001), Sunset Strip (2000) (producer), Fight Club (1999), Pushing Tin (1999), Great Expectations (1998), and 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 the fictional product of Linson's having consolidated and compressed real events to combine with incidents invented 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 in the film, the source book uses the actor's real name: 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 had been chosen by the big-wigs to be the bearer of bad tidings to the prickly star. Baldwin finally shaved 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 tale 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 doesn't have time to douse a single fire while other burn. In one sub-plot, a director is finishing off a 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 (read: Alec Baldwin) shave. Finally, a third film needs financing, and the producer is the guy who has to come up with the investors.

In each case, 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 too fast.

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 movie).

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.

DVD Blu-Ray

Book Charlie Rose discussion


2 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
2.5 James Berardinelli (of 4 stars)
54 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
55 Metacritic.com (of 100)




7.2 IMDB summary (of 10)




Box Office Mojo. It received a minimal distribution (88 theaters) and didn't even perform very well in those. ($1 million) That's a big disappointment for former A-list director Barry Levinson.





  • 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.



Web www.scoopy.com

Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a: