The Kid Stays in the Picture Movie Review
After watching Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein's brilliant documentary, adapted from Evans' book, I may soon have to reread my copy. The duo does two things that Evans never really embraced in his literary effort: They capture the tornado of fame, women, and power that Evans lived in, and, with their subject's help, give it a well-worn dignity and honesty that you rarely see in celebrity biographies.
The movie's concept is very simple. Over the span of almost 100 minutes, a mostly unseen Evans recounts his Hollywood history from being an up and coming movie star to his heyday as head of production at Paramount (where he guided Love Story and The Godfather) ending up after some dark years in the "loony bin." Photographs, movie and TV clips, and headlines accompany the narration. There are no present day interviews with friends (Jack Nicholson), foes (Francis Ford Coppola) or family (five, count 'em, five ex-wives). Most of the movie's footage is over 10 years old. So, how in the hell does this work so well, especially considering the movie's source material?
One reason is Evans himself. His aged playa rasp, ripened by years of partying, smoking, and God knows what else, is such a magnificently versatile storytelling instrument that it immediately hooks you into the movie. Evans describes his courtship of Ali MacGraw so tenderly that you forget she abandoned him for Steve McQueen, until later when he laments that being dumped for the biggest movie star in the world "makes you feel pretty small." When Evans' dishes gossip, you can hear the wink in his voice. He recalls how before The Godfather, Coppola "couldn't get a cartoon made," and he refers to Roman Polanski as a "crazy Polack" who nearly cost him his job at Paramount due to his leisurely and expensive pace while helming Rosemary's Baby. Evans' tale of manipulating Mia Farrow into not leaving that same movie is an antiquated and misogynistic but hysterical parable of how flattery gets you everywhere.
However, Morgen and Burstein's direction makes the film great. Using a limited amount of material, they create a compelling visual element to complement Evans' narrative. In one spot chronicling Evans' bachelor days, the Commodores' "Machine Gun" blares as an array of photographs and newspaper clippings confirming his good time days speeds through the screen (a likely homage to a similar scene in Boogie Nights). And Evans' descent into cocaine abuse, featuring lots of lights and throbbing white funnel-like figures, is just as powerful. Evans' story is made for a Hollywood feature and the directors know that the right visuals will humanize his exploits, such as MacGraw and McQueen walking and holding hands in The Getaway as Evans describes being dumped.
The Kid Stays in the Picture has a number of these gems, when Evans' voice and the pictures tell a story that the best ghostwriter couldn't profile, which allows the filmmakers to present an equally powerful multi-layered version of Evans: go-for-broke producer, playboy, pathetic party drug casualty, weary Hollywood survivor. It's unlikely that Robert Evans has another Chinatown or even Marathon Man left in him. But this documentary is a dazzling, remarkably unpretentious reminder of what he had, lost, and got back.
The DVD features about an hour of extra scenes cut from the film. They aren't entirely necessary, but they add somewhat to the Evans legend. Highly recommended.
The pictures hang over the kid.