Movie Review by Neil Ryan
Starring: Robert Evans
Directors: Nanette Burstein, Brett Morgen
THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE is a film by Hollywood about Hollywood. It is ostensibly an autobiographical documentary chronicling the rise, fall, and re-emergence of Hollywood wunderkind Robert Evans who, from the late 1960s onwards, was responsible for the transformation of Paramount Pictures from being a moribund enterprise whose box office takings trailed behind eight other major studios to become the number one earner. I say “ostensibly” because the film lasts a paltry 90 minutes whilst the similarly titled audio-book, which is adapted from the same source (Evans’ tell-all autobiography) weighs in at a mighty six hours. So strictly speaking THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE is a severely truncated pick and mix effort. Despite having already appeared in other formats there is no doubt that Evans’ story is worth telling via the medium of film: it is, after all, pure Hollywood. In 1956 he was a successful partner in a clothing business when he was spotted poolside at the Beverly Hills Hotel by legendary actress Norma Shearer and was subsequently cast in a handful of films. Realising that he was no great shakes as an actor Evans managed to blag his way into a production-level position. However, before he had a chance to make any real impact he found himself the subject of an effusive and enthusiastic magazine profile written by a friend. This caught the eye of the money men at Paramount and by the age of 34 Evans was installed as their Chief of Production even though he had no producing credits to his name. Evans proved to be a risk-taker with the Midas touch and successive smashes (ROSEMARY’S BABY, LOVE STORY, THE GODFATHER) salvaged the fortunes of Paramount. However, his high velocity personal life was to be his downfall: in between dating myriad leading ladies (although only one relationship, with Ali McGraw, is dealt with in any detail) Evans developed a liking for cocaine which led to him being arrested. This was followed by his implication in a high-profile murder case and, by the end of the 1980s, a spell in a sanatorium. Evans’ rehabilitation came in the 1990s when he was brought back on board by Hollywood via the gratitude of a former protege who was now a major player.
The film’s directors (Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen) opt for an unusual approach to the documentary: there are no interviewees and there is no present-day footage of Evans speaking. And so for ninety minutes Evans’ disembodied voice narrates over the top of a visual kaleidoscope of photographic stills, newspaper cuttings, home movie footage, and classic film clips. This method is reasonably successful: Evans is an amusing speaker and what he has to say is of interest; however, he lacks the emotional range or variety to demand anything other than casual attention from the audience. The anecdotes work because everyone likes to hear tales of the rich and famous taking a pratfall, but one cannot help thinking that THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE offers little more than that which could be gleaned from the average chat show interview. Facts about Evans’ life which would help fashion a greater understanding of his character are glossed over or omitted entirely: for example, the fact that he was already a millionaire before he entered the world of films; or that watching the film gives the impression that his only marriage was to Ali McGraw when, in fact, Evans has been married and divorced five times. But then, I suppose, a film so steeped in Hollywood has to adhere to the one overriding maxim that drives the place: give the public what they want – but just make damn sure you tell them exactly what it is they want first.