Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mistress (1992)

Funny, pointed satire of Hollywood involving the efforts of two huckster screenwriters and a producer to make a film that, as it turns out, is just an excuse for the money-men to put their mistresses on camera. Robert Wuhl is the writer of a years-old melodrama revolving around the suicide of an artist unwilling to compromise (gotta love the foreshadowing) who gets a call from desperate producer Martin Landau and his young spec screenwriter saying that they believe they can get financing for the picture. The rest of the film involves Wuhl and Co. pitching the script to various financiers, who each have their own nitpicks with the script, with the commonality that they all want their girlfriends to appear in the picture in a sizable role. Every compromise Wuhl makes to his beloved script is another compromise of his integrity; this film is noteworthy for making the writer, normally portrayed as a beleaguered, passionate artist or a hack, into a confused, aimless narcissist tired of defending a script that only he loves in lieu of making a compromised, but released picture. The directorial style is fairly barebones, letting the play-like dialogue and monologues take full focus, which works here only because of the acting talent involved; the prospective money-men include Robert DeNiro, Danny Aiello, and Eli Wallach, all of whom kill their respective performances, particularly DeNiro's Hollywood hotshot. Wuhl, and, especially, Landau, are both terrifically desperate and pathetic, as is Jean Smart as Aiello's aging stewardess mistress and Sheryl Lee Ralph as the proposed lead actress for the film. The script, co-written by Under Siege and Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death scribe J.F. Lawton, is not quite as nihilistic as similar showbiz comedies The Player or Swimming With Sharks, but it definitely portrays Hollywood as a soulless vacuum where all integrity must be checked at the door for any sort of tangible, monetary success.

Recommended for fans of Hollywood-centric comedies a la The Player or The Last Shot, or the stellar cast. I wasn't expecting much of a film with DeNiro, Aiello, and Landau from '92 that I had never heard of, but this one is indeed worth seeking out if the setup tickles your fancy.

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