The Kid Stays in the Picture

Glitzy memoir – I can't really call it a documentary – about Robert Evans, a legendary figure in Hollywood who, in short order, progressed from retailer of ladies' pants to clean-cut movie star to studio executive who single-handedly saved Paramount Pictures to an independent producer living the fast life to a tragic figure befallen by scandal, drugs, and failure.

Evans is undoubtedly a fascinating, Gatsby-like character, fueled as much by hubris as by instinct, who has experienced highs and lows that few others will ever glimpse.

Of course this film about his rise and fall (and reputed "rise" again, though the films he's produced in the past decade – stinkers like Sliver and Jade – don't hold a candle to the classics he produced in his prime, including Chinatown and The Godfather) is a big hit amongst the film industry crowd. But will anybody who doesn't have a thorough education in how the studio system changed from the 1950s to the 1970s, or who isn't already aware of Evans's role in the ascension of the independent producer during that era, really "get" The Kid Stays in the Picture? I can't say.

The film itself skims the surface, trying to cram too much into too little time (less than five minutes are spent discussing the making of The Godfather, and the story only touches on Evans's years-long battle with cocaine and his involvement in the notorious Cotton Club murder case). But it's entertaining on a splashy level: the filmmakers sure got their money's worth out of Adobe After Effects, filling nearly every frame with visual tricks. There are no talking heads here, just energized stills, fascinating archival clips, and gorgeous tours through Evans's seemingly haunted mansion, with Evans's own voiceover (taken from the audio book of the same title) our only guide.

In the end, I'd rather have seen a documentary about the making of Evans's movies instead of the opaque and self-aggrandizing producer himself. The only real impression that I walked away with is that the man owes his entire career to the kindness of strangers and to several spectacularly well-timed lucky breaks.