Posted by: Dr P | June 10, 2008

What Just Happened?

It seems fairly appropriate to start a review of one of the most bizarre films I’ve ever seen with a digression. Yesterday I was taking my boys home after a lovely weekend with them; the round trip normally takes about 3 and a half hours, but due to roadworks on the M62 going up and down faster than a gooseberry in a lift, it took 6 in all. That did however give me time to forumlate a quite brilliant plan to enliven the world.

I grew up in a small village just north of Bury called Tottington. Like all small dwellings it had a gentleman’s hairdresser establishment, and – as you might suspect – it was given the quaint name of “The Village Barbers”. Now whilst these days a hairdressers might hold slightly less appeal – and indeed use – than in times of yore, I set about thinking what would happen if it was taken over by a number of individuals in fancy dress costume. Yes that’s right – THE VILLAGE PEOPLE BARBERS! Imagine the scene as you walked in to see a row of chairs lined up, the men having their hair cut in time to the sound of YMCA.

Of course I then spent about an hour and a half thinking about how this could be extended to other places. “The Village People Sweet Shop” for example – there’s a place you can go when you’re short on your dough, you can try … all … kinds … of … bon bons (etc). Imagine going in and asking for some pick and mix! Then of course there’s the classy Village People hotel and leisure complex – rows and rows of people getting sweaty while watching “In the Navy” on the big screens. Nice.

Anyway! “What Just Happened” is a kind of homage to the Hollywood movie making process, whist spoofing it at the same time. The film sets out to depict a once-powerful producer (De Niro) whose latest film is about to open at Cannes, but which is beset with production woes – the eccentric English director won’t remove the “gritty” end scenes, the Hollywood bosses won’t release it in its current form, the big star of the movie (Sean Penn on fine form) is worried about preserving the artistic integrity of the movie, and alongside all that, De Niro is trying to resurrect his failing marriage.

When we delve deeper and discover that the gritty ending involves watching a dog get shot in the head and the cinema screen spatter with blood (which I actually found hilarious as opposed to shocking – in fact so much so that Vic had to keep shushing me as I was convulsed in hysterics), you’ll see the type of film we’re dealing with. The other intertwined plot line follows De Niro’s next movie about to start shooting, but the big star (Bruce Willis as himself) is refusing to shave off his beard or lose any weight. Given that the movie is to be sold on the basis of Bruce’s rugged sex appeal (although I actually thought he was at his sexiest in 1980s cult series Moonlighting), removing the excess facial hair is priority number 1.

The film is shot partly in documentary form and partly in a wholly weird manner, with scenes interweaving, the camera often seeming not to focus on the principal events or the “cut scenes” taking far longer than you might expect (De Niro driving through the LA traffic for ages at one point). I kept looking at the people around me and shrugging and going “what!?” – mind you, I do that a lot, so it might not have been the film at all.

The film couldn’t have been any more bizarre if everyone had dressed in purple glitter and given each other random presents. Totally strange. For the second straight film running, De Niro also got to get into bed with an attractive younger lady (his estranged wife, played nicely by Robin Wright Penn). However unlike his bedroom scenes in “Righteous Kill” where he got to engage in quite noisy and “thrusting” sex with Carla Gugini, this was altogether less exciting.

There’s not a lot I can say about this movie other than you really have to go and see it to understand just how odd it is. In the way it is done, it is brilliant. But you might well leave the cinema not having a clue what was going on. Or even caring. In fact you’ll undoubtledly say “what just happened?” Some people of course say that all the time. Actually this could be a brilliant Hollwood marketing ploy, although I’m not entirely sure you could call a film “I’d give that 5 stars” or “Wow, it’s gone dark early, hasn’t it?” or even “Anyone remember where I parked the car?” – all of which I’ve uttered in recent weeks on exiting the cinema.

Bruce Willis has a tremendous bit part in this film – he’s constantly filled with rage against the Hollywood machine, and there’s a stupendous scene at a funeral where everyone is dropping a bit of earth onto the coffin of a young Hollywood star. He’s already fallen out with De Niro and when he sees that De Niro is standing next in line after him waiting for the shovel, instead of passing it nicely to him, he digs it as hard as possible into the ground!!! I shrieked with laughter at that point too. It also made me remember how to confuse an Irishman – show him three shovels and tell him to take his pick.

However the film did spark me into one moment of genius. Or madness, depending on how you think about it after. There are a couple of scenes where De Niro and Wright Penn are attending a class in order to “move on gracefully” after the breakdown of their wedding. It got me thinking what would happen if Eminem ever became a psychiatrist. Imagine the scene …

Man exits from psychatrist’s office and stumbles into the waiting room. The next patient jumps up in alarm at the sight of this haggard figure.
“Oh my god,” he exclaims, “what happened in there?”
“Well,” says the patient … (wait for it) … “I think I just got shrink rapped”.

As my dear friend Sadie will no doubt say … Bdum Tsch!

What just happened?

Intentional comedy value – 1
Unintentional comedy value – 8
Bruce’s beard – 9
Bruce’s attitude – 10
Weirdness factor – 10
Dog getting shot in the head – 100
Village People present – 0
Overall – 4

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