James L. Brooks
Although I adore children and am honored to be Aunt Jenny, there were definitely times in my nearly decade-long babysitting career where I found myself not only overwhelmed by the kids in my charge but also as terrified as Nick Nolte’s Matt Hobbs is in James L. Brooks’ I’ll Do Anything, when he’s completely lost control of a six year old girl who’s just turned on him. Of course, while I had the benefit of it being a simple job and the luck of going home to a Sesame Street free world when I had finished, Matt Hobbs had no such option since the child terrorizing his home, work and social life is his own flesh and blood.
After divorcing wife Beth (Tracy Ullman) who became tired of the struggling actor always putting his career ahead of everything else, Matt Hobbs has tried to stay true to his craft, going on auditions as he sees fit and accepting odd jobs in the mean time such as his latest after a failed audition, becoming a chauffer to an even more self-centered man, producer Burke Adler (a terrific Albert Brooks). Conveniently working in the same office is the younger Cathy (Joely Richardson) who has a groupie like interest in Matt after seeing him in an acting class and bit parts in films years earlier and she makes it her goal to find a marketable and quality script for producer Burke, researcher Nan (a hilarious Julie Kavner) that will ultimately benefit Matt.
A wrench is thrown into Matt’s life after he flies out to Georgia to pick up his estranged daughter Jeannie (Whittni Wright) and learns that the planned three week visit has ballooned into a much longer stay after his ex gets in trouble with the law. Predictably fearful of change, Jeannie lashes out at her dad in several squirm-inducing but irresistibly funny ways (the airplane temper tantrum is especially memorable) and Matt realizes he must start to prioritize when his daughter begins to show considerable natural talent within his own field.
Although not nearly as humorous, touching or intellectual as Brooks’ brilliant Broadcast News (one of my all-time favorites), it definitely is of interest to his devotees in predicting the next direction his career would be taking with greater investigation of family dynamics displayed in the Academy Award winning As Good As It Gets and the unfairly criticized Spanglish. Originally filmed with the intention of being a musical comedy, the first version of the film included nine songs by Prince but after it tested poorly, they were removed and as Ebert and IMDb noted, further reshoots were ordered to make it more cohesive. While reshoots and delays usually indicate trouble and some will have a hard time dealing with the overly cynical and self-obsessed Hollywood industry characters (with jokes that I’m sure play better to those in the business), it’s still a great deal of fun and gives Nolte a rare chance to play a human and lovable chance to break out of his typecast antagonistic roles.