What Just Happened (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 Ben 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 the 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 will be barely noticeable.

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