The Kid Stays in the Picture
2002, R, 93 min. Directed by Nanette Burstein, Brett Morgen.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 16, 2002
Say what you will about infamous Hollywood producer/shark Robert Evans: He makes terrific copy. His autobiography, upon which this film is based, was a tell-all, read-all maelstrom of back-stabbing, drug-taking, filmmaking debauchery. Thankfully, this film version is almost (and often) word-for-word the same, narrated in Evan's own whiskey and cigarette husk, part truth, part fiction, and all legend. It's hardly impartial -- if you want that, Evans suggests, you're more likely to find it at some backlot party. What makes The Kid Stays in the Picture so eminently fun is that it doesn't even pretend to tell a semblance of the absolute truth; it's Evans' tale all the way, and his rutting, drinking, snorting, Oscar-winning truth is -- for now -- all that matters. If you've been out of the loop for a while, as far as the legendary Hollywood producers go (and who isn't?), Evans came to fame in the late Sixties and early Seventies shepherding a remarkable string of pictures to theatres, among them The Godfather, Rosemary's Baby, The Odd Couple, Harold and Maude, and gobs more. When he was hot he was very hot, and when he was cool he apparently was hot as well. Nobody loves a success so much as one that fails, though, and Evans' downfall rivaled Icarus' in terms of height and plummet. He was discovered by former Tinseltown starlet Norma Shearer while he was lounging around one of those all-too-common poolsides and quickly cast in the role of famed producer Irving Thalberg (Shearer's husband) in the Lon Chaney biopic The Man of a Thousand Faces. He made his way from dashing bullfighter to awful cowboy in a handful of years. Evans had come to California from New York, where he had a serious and lucrative position in the women's garment industry, but the lure of the big screen struck him even harder than his East Coast fame. Acting, it seems, was not to be, but Evans, ever the smooth operator, managed to sashay his way into the peak head-of-production position at Paramount Pictures, right when they appear to have needed him (or someone like him) most. Under his leadership, rife as it was with internecine warfare and the type of underhanded dealings that we now take for granted (but were at the time hot news for all concerned), Evans, the rake, the womanizer, the charming rogue, stood behind and put together a veritable history book of immortal films. Never mind that his weasely tactics won him an army of enemies, or that his fame spawned as much infamy as fame. He was, for a time, the most important man in town. It didn't last, of course: By the Eighties, babes, booze, and blow brought him low, and in what would normally be the end, he lost his beloved home, his reputation, and everything else. Amazingly, Evans managed to weather his own private storm, returning in the Nineties to produce The Two Jakes (a sequel to his own Chinatown), Sliver, and a fistful of other, lesser pictures. This isn't reality we're looking at; with the cut-and-dried Evans viewpoint (seductive and bizarre at the best of times) and a free hand from the filmmakers, The Kid Stays in the Picture plays more like some vanity project gone horribly right than a real, honest-to-goodness documentary. Most everything is taken at Evans' word, and his grin-and-bear it vox maximus runs through the film like a diamondback in heat. But so what? This is classic Hollywood, at its best and worst, sticky rich and scabrous. It may not be the truth, per se, but it sure sounds good.