MOVIE REVIEW | The Big Picture (1989)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “The moments of originality are surrounded by too much beige, anonymous blah to make any real difference.  ”

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“I don’t know you. I don’t know your work. But I think you are a genius. And I am never wrong about that.”

In 1989, Christopher Guest was the bloke who had co-written and co-starred in one of the biggest surprise hits and greatest movies of all time, This Is Spinal Tap.  In 1989, Kevin Bacon was at the peak of his a career as a bankable leading man.  Even as a kid, I was a Kevin Bacon fan then with Footloose almost playing on a loop in my house.  In the years since, Christopher Guest has become one of my absolute favourite voices in Hollywood.  So how then, in almost 30 years, had I never heard of their collaboration, The Big Picture?

After winning a prize for best short film at his film school graduation, Nick (Bacon) is the hottest new name in Hollywood.  Pursued by agents (including Martin Short with little hints of what would become his Jiminy Glick character as Neil Sussman), and studio executives, including JT Walsh as Allen Habel.  Caught up in the glitz, glamour and ego stroking of the film world, Nick signs on with Allen to make his pet project, a dark, love triangle drama.

It’s not long before Neil is trying to mainstream up Nick’s story, with a sensationalistic lesbian love story and a bright and sunny beach, beer commercial look, instead of Nick’s vision of a bleak, snow covered winter.  But making compromises becomes easier and easier as he’s exposed to the world of exotic Hollywood parties, and exotic Hollywood starlets, like Gretchen (Teri Hatcher).  Which doesn’t sit so well with his girl next door girlfriend, Susan (Emily Longstreth).

As a Hollywood satire, The Big Picture is pretty toothless.  Even for someone with only the most pedestrian knowledge of the cutthroat nature of this world, they would be hard pressed to find anything they didn’t already know about the industry.  Although it was a little illuminating and depressing to learn that even in 1989, long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe began its march toward total global domination, studio execs were already obsessed with taking all originality out if an idea and turning it into cookie cutter crap for 14 year olds.

Considering that Christopher Guest has built an entire career on ruthlessly and hilariously pulling the piss out of show business, The Big Picture is all the more disappointing and generic.  Maybe there’s an upside.  Maybe it was the bullshit studio interference and hoop jumping he went through for this movie, that lead to the caustic, biting, but always funny, attitude of movies like Waiting for Guffman and (the unfairly maligned) For Your Consideration.
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There’s the odd spark of originality, like when Nick’s imagination leads to genre pastiches, including an argument with his girlfriend in the real world, that turns into hard boiled piece of noir in his head.  But these moments of originality are surrounded by too much beige, anonymous blah to make any real difference.

The Big Picture
Directed By – Christopher Guest
Written By – Michael Varhol,  Christopher Guest,  Michael McKean

Other Opinions are Available.  What did these people have to say about The Big Picture?
Pop Matters
The New York Times
Better Than IMDB

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