The Big Picture Review

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The winner of student film competition is whisked away to Hollywood where he gradually finds his life’s dreams are watered down.


Having co-written and starred (as the Great Nigel Tufnell) in This Is Spinal Tap, director Christopher Guest here turns the same wonderfully accurate eye to the movie business and turns out a razor sharp, very funny and loonily endearing skit on the Hollywood studio system. The overwhelming lack of enthusiasm for the film in the US was perhaps down to a reluctance among the American movie-going public to believe that their beloved industry could actually be anything like this, a reluctance that has meant The Big Picture now gets a much belated British release. Much belated but most welcome.

Opening with a series of horribly believable student films - a Napoleonic widescreen epic revealing the incipient megalomania of its auteur , a daffy bit of performance art madness from Jennifer Jason Leigh (who entered into the spirit of the whole thing by making her own character's film), and a ghastly amateurish courtroom drama made by the son of a bigshot agent who is thus able to get a big name cast (Elliott Gould, June Lockhart, Roddy McDowell) to appear in his film - Guest then goes on to spotlight a succession of spot-on funny-nasty caricature Hollywood characters, among them J.T. Walsh as the scheming producer, Martin Short (uncredited in his best-ever screen work) as a grasping gay agent and even John Cleese, in a micro-gag as a bartender.

The eventual winner out of this dreadful bunch is student director Nick Chapman (Bacon), who is, of course, immediately sucked into the morass that is Hollywood, seduced onto the books of a voracious agent, and lured into a series of wonderfully-staged pitch meetings with various producers. Somewhere along the way, Chapman's original idea for a black and white "relationships film" gradually turns into Beach Nuts, a no-holds-barred nerd comedy. Not surprisingly, the whole thing starts to affect his mind, and he swaps his devoted girlfriend (Longstreth) for a murderously ambitious bikini girl starlet, while becoming more and more desperate to see his film -no matter how badly mutilated it may be by this stage - up there on the screen. And so it goes on.

The whole thing does tend to run out of steam towards the end, but The Big Picture is likely to be much-loved by anyone with more than a passing facination in how Hollywood works. And ,in similar fashion to This Is Spinal Tap, this is surely destined for cult status on what is likely to be a hasty video release.

A film likely to be much loved by anyone with more than a passing fascination with Hollywood.