What's wrong with a movie musical? Everything, apparently. Preview audiences so hated the musical version of I'll Do Anything that mindful writer/director/producer James L. Brooks cut the songs and re-edited the film at the eleventh hour. Contemporary moviegoers, unlike generations before them, just won't willingly suspend their disbelief at characters' breaking into song. That the final version of I'll Do Anything isn't a bomb is a testament to Brooks, Hollywood's most empathetic auteur on relationships. But it's nowhere near his Academy Award-winning Terms of Endearment.
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As you watch, you can sense the places where the songs were supposed to go: when Brooks cut his character-enhancing lyrics, he didn't replace them with character-revealing dialogue. What he did was cut and paste. The result is an occasionally well-observed but more often paper-thin story of an out-of-work actor (Nick Nolte) who gets the role of his life when his ex-wife (Tracey Ullman) unexpectedly makes him raise his precocious six-year-old daughter (Whittni Wright). As if he needed more complications, he gets entangled with a neurotic film executive (Joely Richardson), her maniac producer/boss (Albert Brooks) and his long-suffering researcher (Julie Kavner).
Set in behind-the-scenes Hollywood, the movie pokes fun at the biz in one breath ("I'm being real now," Brooks says, as he casts leads in his popcorn movies not by their talent, but by whether their screen tests make his staff want to go to bed with them), then turns interpersonal in another (in the midst of a temper tantrum on an airplane, Nolte's little girl slaps herself so the passengers think her father did it). Which is to say that I'll Do Anything is really a poor relation to Brooks' seminal Broadcast News, the adult principals mere dilutions of the appealingly screwy Holly Hunter/William Hurt/Albert Brooks media trinity.
Though very well acted and full of lots of fun cameos, I'll Do Anything plays too fast and loose with everything to do anything all that memorably.
-- Peter Szatmary