Out of Competition: “What Just Happened” by Barry Levinson

Presented out of Competition, What Just Happened by Barry Levinson has been selected as the closing film of this 61st Festival de Cannes. A comedy based on producer Art Linson’s autobiographical novel What Just Happened: Bitter Hollywood Tales From the Front Line, it stars Robert De Niro, who will also be onstage in person tonight to award the Palme d’Or to one of the 22 films in Competition. In the film, De Niro plays Ben, a Hollywood producer whose private life – his second marriage is falling apart – is as much of a mess as his career; he’s having trouble wrapping up his next feature. What Just Happened, which also stars such renowned actors as Sean Penn, Bruce Willis, Catherine Keener, and Stanley Tucci, tracks this man through a hellish two weeks, as he fends off such hazards as a kooky director, a shameless actor, and an executive producer whose brain is running on empty. Nothing goes as planned.

“Bob [De Niro] had always encouraged Art to write a screenplay based on his memoirs, and then when Art did, Bob encouraged him to send it to me,” recalls Barry Levinson, who has never presented a film in Cannes before. “I responded to it because I thought it was very funny but also very real. You read a lot of stories about Hollywood that are just straight-ahead spoof, but as outrageous as this story was, it also reflected very much what the business is actually like. It felt very credible and honest.”

“I’m always fascinated by people under extreme pressure and I liked that this story is, at heart, about a man just trying to survive two weeks in hell,” Levinson continued. “What really makes Ben so interesting to me, though, is that he’s not just the witness to all this – he’s at least as flawed as everyone around him. He’s no better and no worse than all the people driving him crazy and I didn’t want to make any apologies for his behavior. He is what he is, and what we set out to capture is how Ben is just literally intent on finding ways to keep going no matter what happens.”