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Mistress Review

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★★★★★

The writing-directing debut of actor Barry Primus is a slight comedy on art and compromise as seen by a would-be writer-director and was a pet project long in search of backing before old friend Robert De Niro stepped in to produce and co-star.

Whether he should have done, however, is debatable. Failed filmmaker Marvin (Wuhl) has been reduced to directing home cookery instructional videos when washed-up producer Jack Roth (Landau) unearths a dusty screenplay of his about a suicidal artist and reinfects him with the mania to make it.

All it needs, of course, is a few changes - like, "Does he have to kill himself? Couldn't he just leave town?" - and some backers. Thus developments of the sort sketched in The Player and even more so in The Big Picture and Stranger's Kiss are set in motion. Wheeler-dealers, pitch-makers and ball-breakers thrash it out, but these are players in a very minor league.

They do lunch not in Spago or Morton's but at diners like Denny's, the California equivalent of Happy Eater, and potential flyers Aiello, Wailach and a slick, calculating De Niro want changes to the script and, crucially, leading roles for each of their mostly inept mistresses. The joke wears thin in less than an hour, with one's sympathies going to Marvin's exasperated wife (Laurie Metcalf) who knows his confessional opus for the turgid wallow it sounds. And while Landau, Aiello and a brief appearance by Christopher Walken do perk things up, it's a tediously indulgent, redundant work.

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