The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002)Rated R for language and some brief violent and sexual images.
Directed by Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen.
LVJeff's Rating: 8/10
Photo ©USA Films. All rights reserved.
Life Within the Picture
Everyone should be as lucky as Robert Evans. This man fell in to the world of acting without trying, then parlayed his situation to break into movie producing. He brought a failing studio to the pinnacle of success and had friends in high places to help him through the toughest times. Now he has taken the opportunity to narrate a documentary based on his own autobiography.
That's the main hook of The Kid Stays in the Picture. Evans, a top executive and producer at Paramount Pictures from the late '60's and through the '70's, boldly tells his own story, coloring the events with his frank, no-nonsense perspective. The audience can't tell where the embellishing is, nor should it care -- the portrait Evans paints is involving and entertaining. He justifies his account with a quote that sets the tone before the movie begins:
"There are three sides to every story: my side, your side and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each one differently."
What follows is the tale of a man who went after his objects of desire from the moments he determined they were desirable. When he witnessed producer Darryl F. Zanuck wield his movie-making powers, he knew he wanted those same powers. When he knew he had a hit movie in his hands, he set out to make it no matter the obstacles. After he was lovestruck by actress Ali McGraw, marrying her became an inevitability. Evans narrates his tale with a confidence that doesn't approach arrogance, a humility that comes from accepting lessons learned, and a dry humor that dovetails the irony found in hindsight.
The documentary features film clips and archival footage, but the photographs are what allow directors Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen to display their creativity. Instead of just zooming, panning, and scrolling on still pictures, Burstein and Morgen manipulate the objects within the photos so that the foreground appears to move on a plane separate from the background. The results give the film an animated feel that neatly complements Evans's loose storytelling.
Regrettably, today's saturation of cable-offered bio-documentaries dilutes what should be a wholly fascinating drama. Programs like E!'s "Hollywood True Stories" and VH-1's "Behind the Music" may have overexposed audiences to the familiar patterns of a celebrity's life -- opportunism mixed with good timing bring fame and riches, drugs and an unchecked hubris bring a fall from grace, and wisdom fuels the chance to pick up the pieces and keep looking forward. Evans's story doesn't deviate from this -- by the time the movie reaches his bouts with cocaine, many of us feel that we've heard something like this many times before.
However, most of us have never heard such tales straight from the celebrity's own mouth. That's why it's easy to smile as we watch The Kid Stays in the Picture. Famous or not, we know the chance to voice our own life stories on film would be rare indeed. And, even then, who among us could narrate our autobiography with Robert Evans's coolness and self-assurance? We should all be so lucky.
©Jeffrey Chen, Jul. 25, 2002