"Brush your teeth before you go to bed every night, or your gums will bleed and you'll choke to death in your sleep."—Beth's (Tracy Ullman) skewered advice to her daughter, I'll Do Anything
To my surprise, filmmaker James L. Brooks has only directed four films in his entire career, almost every one critically lauded and at the very least a minor hit with audiences. Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, and As Good As It Gets were all nominated for various Oscars, and even won a few in the process (including Best Picture for Terms of Endearment). Except, that is, his 1993 dud I'll Do Anything. Originally conceived as a musical comedy, I'll Do Anything's songs garnered terrible ratings with audiences during test screenings. Subsequently, the musical numbers were trimmed from the final cut of the film and extra footage was shot to fill in the gaps. This gave birth to a new incarnation of the film that didn't play very well upon its initial release in theaters. The real question is: did the film deserve such a weak box office reception? I'll Do Anything has been given new life on DVD care of Columbia Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Nick Nolte is Matt Hobbs, a down-on-his-luck actor trying to make ends meet in Los Angeles by getting worthwhile work in film and TV (in 1980, he even snagged an Emmy nomination for his work in a made-for-TV film). When his ex-wife (Tracy Ullman, I Love You To Death) is taken into custody by the authorities for criminal activities, Matt's daughter Jeannie (newcomer Whittni Wright) is left in his care. Suddenly Matt's world is turned upside down as he discovers the joys and frustrations of being a single parent. At the same time, Matt begins a shaky romance with Cathy (Joely Richardson, 101 Dalmatians), who works as an assistant for Burke Adler (Albert Brooks, Mother), a cynical and shallow Hollywood movie producer who is smitten with his level-headed and brutally honest researcher (Julie Kavner, voice of Marge on The Simpsons). As all of these people's lives begin to intertwine, Matt discovers that he may have better paternal instincts than he thought, and that when it comes to his daughter, he'll do anything to be a loving and devoted father.
I'll Do Anything is a sweet movie that is filled with sweet performances. By no means is it James L. Brooks' best film, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. While Brooks has done far better work (Terms of Endearment and As Good As It Gets are two of my favorites), even when he's at his worst his movies are filled with funny asides and winning characters. It's always nice to come across a comedy that doesn't pander to its audience while still giving them the laughs they're looking for. Adam Sandler and Jim Carrey should take a few notes.
The story is set in Hollywood, a place where dreams are made and broken, sometimes in the very same day. The characters are all going through some kind of crisis, whether it be internal or external. Nick Nolte's Matt is attempting to both get acting work and take care of his young daughter. Albert Brooks' Burke Alder (a nod to the intense producer Joel Silver) seems to wrestle with being an actual human being instead of a bitter, cynical SOB. Cathy (Richardson) seems to struggle with her own self-worth both in her personal and work life (no one at her office seems to think her opinion matters). All of these people are figuring out ways to be better than they are. Here is a movie that audiences may be able to connect with—in these characters we see a little bit of ourselves. Though the story is fairly straight-forward and not very original, it's almost inconsequential—it's the characters that carry this film.
I wonder how I'll Do Anything would have played with the musical numbers intact. As it stands, Brooks was able to make the cuts and still leave the story and characters as a whole. This is a testament to how good Brooks' writing is; in the hands of a lesser talent, it may have ended up as a shell of a film. Brooks has infused the screenplay with biting, often caustic dialogue that sometimes has almost too much truth to it (a discussion about Albert Brooks' character's shortcomings is hysterical). I genuinely felt for Nick Nolte's character—he loves his work so much, yet must come to grips with taking care of a little girl. I really feel that Nolte is one of the best actors around, and deserves more credit than he's received (he'll be seen in the summer 2003 adaptation of the comic book The Incredible Hulk). The film isn't without its flaws, though these are minimal when compared the amount of laughs the film exudes. If you're in the mood for a fluffy comedy (fluffy when compared to Brooks' previous movies), then I'll Do Anything is worth the rent.
I'll Do Anything is presented in a very attractive looking 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. I was pleasantly surprised at how nice this image looked. The colors and black levels are all in excellent shape with only the smallest of imperfections marring the image (including a small amount of grain and dirt from time to time). Also available on this disc is a hacked 1.33:1 pan and scan version of the film that should under no circumstances be viewed.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Sound in English. This ended up being a fine sound mix that features few directional effects or surround sounds. Though the spaciousness of the track is weak, overall it aptly supports the film (which is, after all, a dialogue driven comedy). Also included on this disc are English, Spanish, French, and Japanese subtitles.
Ah, what a missed opportunity this DVD edition of I'll Do Anything ended up being. This would have been the opportune time for director James L. Brooks to have added on the near legendary musical numbers originally trimmed from the final print of the film. Alas, all viewers are treated to is a theatrical trailer for I'll Do Anything as well as a few other trailers for various Columbia TriStar titles.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed I'll Do Anything. Film buffs will get a kick out of Brooks' take on the Hollywood monster machine, and comedy fans will enjoy Brooks sharply pointed rants and one-liners. Though he's only made a handful of movies, James L. Brooks has proven himself one of the best writer/directors working today.
I'll Do Anything is a winning romantic comedy with bite. Case dismissed!
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