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Big Picture (1989)

Although less pointed in its recitation of familiar Hollywood anecdotes than This is Spinal Tap, with which it shares many key personnel, The Big Picture is a funny, likeable satire which does well puncturing the pretense of the movie business. Kevin Bacon's naive director holds the scattershot skit together, giving an interestingly layered performance that manages to keep the film on track during its more predictable stretches. For the rest, an assortment of friends of the family, some unbilled, contribute pithy little sketches of Hollywood types: Martin Short as a camp agent who urges his client to accept "the TV pilot about the cop and the black kid"; Fran Drescher as the executive wife living with her husband's previous wife's bad taste interior decoration; Jennifer Jason Leigh as a performance video artist whose works are of quite startling rottenness; Jason Gould as an industry brat film student, son of a major agent, whose amateurish student film commands an all star cast; Terry Hatcher as the vampish starlet whose startlingly vapid advances overwhelm Nick; John Cleese as a fantasy sequence bartender father confessor who, in the real coda, notes It's a Wonderful Life playing in black and white on a barroom TV set and hits it until it comes on in its colorised form; and Tracy Brooks Swope as a Dawn Steel style studio dragon lady.

The film is especially pleasing in its reliance on subtleties, trusting its audience to laugh at jokes like the varied and ridiculous decors adopted by the studeo executives for their offices Allen Habel favours open fires that rise and fall by remote control and simple idiocies like the industry insider who tries to persuade Nick to shoot his flm in colour because "most theatres don't have the projection equipment for black and white any more." One's major cavil is the suggestion that Nick's Woody Allen as Ingmar Bergman dream project is that much more worthwhile a venture than Beach Nuts, the college kids and stewardesses movie it gradually turns into, although some of the film's funniest jokes follow the project's metamorphosis as Nick's visualisations of it are affected by Habel's input, with one of his romantic triangle changing sex, all of them being recast as fifteen years younger and the snowy winter setting turning into a sunny, bikini strewn beach. No less sharp are the various student film extracts from Lydia's late '60s doodling through to a megalomanaic cinemascope epic with the director cast as Napoleon and fantasised commercial projects, like a "buddy movie" featuring two of America's most beloved heroes, Abe Lincoln and Babe Ruth. A mite overstretched at 100 minutes, and occasionally reliant on too familiar gags about carphones or rock videos, this is still a bright, fresh little picture.

First Published In: Monthly Film Bulletin vol.57 no.683 (December 1990) pp.348-349

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