A few fine moments can't salvage this dispiriting disappointment from writer-director James L. Brooks (TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, BROADCAST NEWS), originally planned as a musical extravaganza. After negative previews, the producers lost nerve and jettisoned the musical numbers, along with most
of the film's reason for being.
Struggling character actor Matt (Nick Nolte) is on the verge of landing a role when his ex-wife (Tracey Ullman) is imprisoned for her involvement in a pension fund scandal, leaving Matt with sole custody of their 6-year-old daughter Jeannie (Whittni Wright), whom he hasn't seen in two years.
Matt loses the part when he runs afoul of prickly producer Burke Adler (Albert Brooks) during his audition, but the producer later hires Matt as his chauffeur. Matt despises the cold-blooded development people he encounters at Burke's office every day, but he nevertheless finds himself becoming
smitten with one of them--beautiful but utterly spineless Cathy (Joely Richardson). At home, Matt has his hands full with Jeannie, a spoiled brat who uses her outrageous cuteness as a weapon. Matt brings Jeannie to the studio one day when he is to audition for Cathy's latest project, a remake of
MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN. After wandering off, Jeannie is spotted by the casting director of a new sitcom and hired for the lead on the spot. Matt is rejected for the Mr. Deeds role when Cathy caves in to Burke's opposition during a casting meeting; her cowardice breaks up their romance. However,
Matt's fortunes abruptly rise again when he makes a deal to coach Burke in his on-again, off-again romance with audience researcher Nan (Julie Kavner) in exchange for a career boost. Matt and Jeannie celebrate their good fortunes after the successful taping of her sitcom's pilot episode.
Brooks can't be faulted when he casts a jaundiced insider's eye on life and business in Hollywood today: in some ways, I'LL DO ANYTHING is as deadly accurate as THE PLAYER. But unlike Robert Altman, who used the business of Hollywood as a metaphor for the business of America, Brooks seems to
think that the personal lives and travails of minor Tinseltown types are as interesting to the rest of us as they are to him. We're supposed to love and respect these characters for their crazy showbiz dreams, but we couldn't care less--they range from vaguely off-putting to gratingly obnoxious.
Perhaps the musical numbers were meant to make them more accessible. On the other hand, it's possible that the test audiences were right. As it is, even those unfamiliar with ANYTHING's tortured history are bound to notice something missing. Dramatically, the film is all "middles" with no peaks or
climaxes, distractedly cutting away to a different subplot just when something interesting or important is about to happen. In these moments, the film seems to surge and build and then ... nothing. (Adult situations, sexual situations, nudity, profanity.)
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