A review of “The Kid Stays in the Picture” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ****

Rating: R for language and mature themes

Run Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

 

 

Cheesy B-movies have nothing on this lounge-lizardesque, documentary classic that chronicles the life of uber-Hollywood producer and legendary womanizer Robert Evans.

Evans is a La-La-Land success story, the mercurial rise-and-fall kid.  Bristling with moxie, Evan’s brash ego took him from the New York-based Evan-Picone ladies’ slacks showroom to poolside at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where he was “discovered” by fading star Norma Shearer.  From a role as Shearer’s ex-husband Irving Thalberg in “Man of A Thousand Faces” to co-starring in Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”, the “New Valentino” tired of life as a lower-echelon actor (“half-assed”, in his own words) and moved to the other side of the camera into producing.  His goal?  To be the next Darryl F. Zanuck, movie mogul and then head of 20th Century Fox Studios.

Evans’ motto was simple: live by the press and die by the press.  And live he did, high-profile style, by producing some of the most influential films of the late 60s and early 70s (“Rosemary’s Baby”, “The Godfather”, “Harold and Maude”, “Chinatown”, etc.), coaxing Paramount Pictures out of the red and into the black, and subsequently marrying his maddeningly Zen  “Love Story” starlet, Ali McGraw. The premieres, the wheels, a dame on each arm – lady luck was riding shotgun on Evans’ trip to the top of the mountain. But what goes up ultimately comes down.

The crash was spectacular. A series of ghastly movie flops (“Jade”, “Sliver”, “The Two Jakes”), five marriages ending in divorce, and a permanent broken heart from watching McGraw run off with her “Getaway” co-star Steve McQueen humbled this Hollywood high-roller. Severe cocaine addiction and a tangential role in a shady Hollywood murder were nails in the coffin.

This is a delightfully voyeuristic film experience, based on Evans’ 1994 memoirs of the same name.  It’s Evans on Evans, as the smooth talker with the trademark oversized specs and perpetual tan narrates his way through his own story with glib amusement. Clandestine tours of Evans’ beloved Beverly Hills refuge Woodland add to the piquant air of intimacy.  Colorful, gossipy footage is splashed about in a cut-and-paste cum digital format that’s crazy, arthouse fun.  A virtual roller-coaster ride of glamour and sleaze.