What Just Happened is a satirical comedy-drama directed by Barry Levinson and starring Robert De Niro. The supporting cast includes Catherine Keener, Robin Wright Penn, Stanley Tucci, and Sean Penn.
What Just Happened is an independent film, produced by 2929 Productions, Art Linson Productions and Tribeca Productions, and was released on October 17, 2008.
The film is based on the book, What Just Happened? Bitter Hollywood Tales from the Front Line, by Art Linson, about his experiences as a producer in Hollywood.
This film was shown at the Cannes Film Festival on May 25, 2008.
Ben (Robert De Niro), a veteran Hollywood producer, is suffering a number of professional and personal problems. His latest film, Fiercely, has a disastrous test screening, mostly because of its ending which features the murder of its main character (played by Sean Penn, who plays himself elsewhere in the film) along with his pet dog.
Ben and his maverick British director, Jeremy Brunell (Michael Wincott), plead their case to studio executive Lou Tarnow (Catherine Keener). She accuses Ben of filming the dog's killing only so he could use it as a "bargaining chip" - to make it easier to negotiate against cutting other problematic scenes). Lou threatens to pull Ben's movie from Cannes and take over editing unless at least the dog's death is removed. Jeremy adamantly refuses, throwing a tantrum.
Adding to Ben's problems, he is having trouble making a clean break from Kelly, his second wife. Ben later discovers his wife is having an affair with Scott Solomon, a married screenwriter who Ben has previously worked with. Scott has a screenplay that he's trying to get off the ground, to which Brad Pitt later becomes attached.
Lastly the studio is threatening to cancel a planned Bruce Willis movie because of the star's unwillingness to shave the large, thick beard that he has grown. Ben's career hinges on the fate of the film, but any attempt to reason with Willis inevitably meets a violent, foul-mouthed response.
Ultimately Jeremy relents and re-edits the ending of Fiercely to have the dog survive. Ben tries to get Willis's agent, Dick Bell, to reason with him and get the beard removed, but his efforts only get Bell fired. Nonetheless, Willis does eventually shave his beard off, and the film goes ahead.
A week later, Ben, Lou and Jeremy attend Cannes, hopeful that they might take a Palme D'Or award. Unfortunately, and without telling Ben or Lou, Jeremy has re-edited Fiercely again, not only killing the dog, but adding nearly a full minute of bullets being shot into their bodies. While new ending destroys the film's chances of a Palme d'Or and angers many in the audience, others eagerly applaud the final version of the film, including Sean Penn (playing himself). Lou is not impressed, and immediately flies out of Cannes on the studio's private jet, leaving Ben stranded in France.
Ben eventually does make it back home, in time for a photo-shoot of Hollywood's top thirty producers with Vanity Fair, although after the magazine's publishers hear about the debacle in Cannes, Ben is relegated to the far edge of the photo, meaning he won't be on the magazine's cover and will be barely noticeable in the larger inside version. Ben's voice-over, as the film ends, comments that this represents him nearly, but not quite being pushed out of Hollywood.
During the film's postscript as narrated by Ben, he reveals that Fiercely turned out to be a major blockbuster but its success doesn't stop Jeremy from having a run-in with the law. Emotionally unstable Jeremy is arrested at an airport when drugs are found in his bag. While in rehab, Jeremy focuses on his work, and considers several offers to direct, including the possibility of working with Ben. Lou wins a major award, ironically because of her work with Jeremy whose work she dislikes.
Brad Pitt drops out of Scott's film project, causing Scott to fall into a deep and alcohol-fueled depression while living with Ben's ex-wife. Dick Bell, on the other hand, still suffers from excruciating stress-induced stomach pain that prompts him to pull over to the side of the road while on a date.
Based on 139 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, the film has received an overall "Rotten" rating of 51%, with a weighted average score of 5.8/10. The sites consensus states: "What Just Happened has some inspired comic moments, but this inside-baseball take on Hollywood lacks satirical bite."
Robert De Niro as Ben, a Hollywood producer,
Sean Penn as Himself,
Catherine Keener as Lou Tarnow,
Bruce Willis as Himself,
John Turturro as Dick Bell, agent to Bruce Willis,
Michael Wincott as Jeremy Brunell, an emotionally unstable British film director,
Robin Wright Penn as Kelly, Ben's second wife,
Stanley Tucci as Scott Solomon,
Kristen Stewart as Zoe, Ben's daughter,
Logan Grove as Max, Ben's Son