amazon, frank whaley, george huang, harvey weinstein, itunes, jack warner, kevin spacey, macauley culkin, michelle forbes, netflix, robert altman, swimming with sharks, the bad and the beautiful, the player, the usual suspects, vincente minnelli
“You. Have. No. Brain.”
These are the some of the first words Guy (Frank Whaley) hears from his new boss Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey in one of his finest roles). An ominous beginning to the first day of a new job, right? Buddy is the Senior Executive Vice President of Production for Keystone Pictures and Guy is his new personal assistant, a job that has an incredible legacy sending those who have held it to executive level production positions at movie studios like Paramount and Sony and into producing roles for projects like all of the Macauley Culkin action pictures – obviously a much bigger deal in 1994 when this film was released. Here’s an example of how “loving” Buddy can be:
Swimming with Sharks follows Guy’s trials and tribulations as he navigates these difficult waters, trying to stay in Buddy’s good graces all while trying to carve out a place where he can fit himself into the film world that he loves so much. When asked why he’s working in the movies by producer Dawn Lockard (Michelle Forbes), he answers: “All of my favorite memories have been of movies.” Something tells me that after his experience with Buddy, that may well not be the case anymore. And when Buddy states, “This job is very big on payback,” I’m not sure he saw what was coming next. Let’s say this film takes quite an unexpected turn (although it’s set up in the post-opening credits sequence) when Buddy comes between Guy and Dawn, who have become an item.
This is one of the most acerbic dark comedies about Hollywood out there. While it doesn’t quite rank with the likes of Robert Altman’s The Player or Vincente Minnelli‘s The Bad and the Beautiful, it certainly plays in the same sandbox. Writer-director George Huang beautifully employs a non-linear structure flush with flashbacks to conceal the twist ending with a deft touch. Frank Whaley is very well cast playing the awww-shucks small-town fish out of water. Spacey did this film right before winning an Oscar for his role in The Usual Suspects and definitely at the apex of his career. It isn’t hard to imagine Buddy as based on any number of real-life studio execs (Jack Warner or Harvey Weinstein, anyone?). This film doesn’t hold back on Hollywood politics and what it takes to succeed in the business, none of which should come to anyone’s surprise. Huang creates an atmosphere that makes this film seem like a play since there are so few people involved in the story. Just a few ancillary characters buzz in and out of Guy, Buddy and Dawn’s world and I think this film is all the better for it.
This film is streaming on Netflix, Amazon (free with your Prime membership), and iTunes.
Here’s the trailer:
It’s funny to see how the original trailer positioned this film as sort of a happy, bubbly movie. It definitely isn’t.