I'll Do Anything
1994, PG-13, 115 min. Directed by James L. Brooks. Starring Nick Nolte, Albert Brooks, Julie Kavner, Joely Richardson, Tracey Ullman, Whittni Wright.
REVIEWED By Louis Black, Fri., Feb. 11, 1994
After Terms of Endearment and Broadcast News, two remarkably provocative and entertaining films, Brooks's next film was eagerly awaited. I'll Do Anything, though, hit the white water rapids on the audience test market track and overturned. Ironically, the film -- originally a musical about an unsuccessful actor/father reunited with his long unseen 6-year-old daughter who, almost casually, picks up a successful acting career -- makes great fun of testing audiences. Its own testing revealed that viewers found the musical version confusing and the songs disruptive. In response, they've cut out all the musical numbers and it's now a comedy-drama. Unfortunately, I'll Do Anything rapidly shifts tones, a strategy that is encouraged in a musical but which doesn't work in this comic/dramatic narrative. The shifts are so abrupt and lacking the musical transitions, that it is viscerally and narratively confusing. Again and again, for no apparent reason, we are reminded that we are watching a movie. I'll Do Anything is not cohesive, it is obviously fake, a very theatrical piece. Not really about much except how soulless Hollywood is, the film is still great to watch -- adult characters saying adult things in adult situations. Nolte ends up as a chauffeur for Brooks who does a brilliant take as a Scott Rudin/Joel Silver producer of violent epics. At one point he explains that if you want to know about his taste, check his lamps at home not his movies. He falls for pollster Kavner, whose job is actually that of running test screenings. She is on so many different kinds of anti-depressant and anti-side effect drugs that she has become a truth teller, obviously the wisest and sanest voice in the movie. Nolte falls in love with one of Brooks's staff (Richardson) and almost gets a major role. Meanwhile his daughter from his failed marriage shows up and he has to cope with her and the new experience of being a father. Wright who, after all is a kid, comes across like a little theatrical freight train completely out of control. There is rarely a believable moment in her banzai performance. But believable and entertaining can be two different entities, and she is fun to watch. Whenever Brooks and Kavner are on the screen, the film improves considerably. Ullman does Holly Hunter, which is interesting, and she has a few of the best scenes in the film, though her pressed-to-the-metal performance is unnerving so early on. This is a schizoid review, it's that kind of movie. It doesn't work. The story is too pat, the cinematic tension unreal, but the cast is so outstanding, the script so literate and observant that I'll Do Anything is a pleasure to watch. Brooks should have known that a musical is a musical and, if nothing else, chanced a limited release although, hell, that probably wouldn't have worked. I would love to see this as a musical. Final summation, perhaps the auteur theory is rearing its ugly head here but Brooks's failures are better than most people's successes.