The Big Picture Reviews
1989's "The Big Picture," directed by later-to-be mockumentary great Christopher Guest ("Best in Show," "A Mighty Wind"), is everything a Hollywood lampoon should and shouldn't be. It makes strides with the way it touches upon the town's way of manipulating young filmmakers for the purpose of making money, the way temptation lurks around every corner, and the way it is proven to be easy to lose humility in a land where everybody consistently tells you that you're the best at what you do. But it squanders much of its footing (and potential) due to the way it so often trifles around with the surreal, the way it can't decide if it wants to be an ersatz screwball comedy or a telling black comedy, and the way it always seems to be pleased with itself in a less-than-agreeable manner. We want to like it, as its Tinsel Town observations are reasonably astute. But it's too overconfident for a film that only incites mild laughter - we want it to be darker, more unforgiving, and yet it feels transparent and frivolous.
In "The Big Picture," Kevin Bacon portrays Nick Chapman, a young filmmaker who goes from amateur to topic of interest after one of his student films wins a prestigious award. Immediately a piece of meat for agents around Hollywood to feast their eyes on, everyone, everyone, wants him to direct a hopefully bankable feature in their name. Obviously, Nick is ecstatic, in shock that his childhood dream of making movies is becoming a reality with relative overnight success. Jumping from executive to executive, he repeatedly shares his plans to create an art house masterwork (filmed in black-and-white, without music, and with a principal cast of forty-somethings); but, being the audience obsessed industry that it is, his ideas are met with major tweaks, most of his youthful creativity compromised in the process.
Being a hot commodity soon makes an impact on his personal life, too. Despite being in a committed relationship with Susan (Emily Longstreth), another Hollywood hopeful, he is struck with the idea of risking it all for a bimbo (a laughably big-haired Teri Hatcher) whose physical attractiveness is enough to make him lose the remaining bits of his moral standards. He is also ready to betray his best friend (Michael McKean), a cinematographer, for a renowned professional, knowing full well that he desperately needs the work. And yet, Nick always seems to be slightly aware that getting wrapped up in the phoniness of it all is no way to live - will he eventually be able to stand up to the glamour and maintain his personal and professional integrity?
The answer, unsurprisingly, is yes. Somehow, though, I wish it weren't, as "The Big Picture" is at its most complex, its most amusing, when overtaken by cynicism. But for most of its length, it all feels very Hollywood Satire 101, predictable in how it tries to convince us that attempting to be an artist in such a shallow town can cause one to lose themselves, predictable in its characters and their motivations. And is it an unfunny comedy, or a curiously wacky show-biz drama? Responses are never easy, and the film feels like the product of clever planning without enough substance to make everything stick together. It's a good enough directorial debut from Guest, but most are well aware of the hits he'd later achieve, and I'd rather put my attention onto those.