I'll Do Anything (United States, 1994)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

This certainly isn't the first motion picture to focus on father/daughter bonding, nor will it be the last. But I'll Do Anything has the distinction of being enjoyable and entertaining, while bringing a new twist or two to an old subject. Not everything works out quite as expected, and that's the biggest element of the movie's charm, because these days it's usually too easy to predict what's coming next.

In 1980, Matt Hobbs (Nick Nolte) was nominated for an Emmy that he didn't win. On the night of the awards ceremony, he and longtime girlfriend, Beth (Tracey Ullman), decided to get married. Seven years later, around the time that Matt and Beth's marriage was beginning to fray, their only child, Jeannie (Whittni Wright), arrived. By 1993, the pair have not only divorced, but are living on opposite coasts. With his career in a state of collapse, Matt agrees to become the chauffeur of powerful movie producer Burke Adler (Albert Brooks), a man with a heart of stone and a disposition to match. While performing his new job, Matt catches the attention of Cathy Breslow (Joely Richardson), one of Adler's assistants. Then, just as a little cash starts flowing in, Matt has to fly out to Georgia to pick up his daughter for a "visit." When he gets there, however, he learns that Beth is on her way to jail, and he's been lumbered with a little girl he hasn't seen for two years.

Kids in movies generally come in one of two categories: sickeningly cute or terminally annoying. Young Whittni Wright has a membership in both clubs. More importantly, however, she can act, unlike many of the crop of under-ten performers. There are a few scenes where she fails to convince, but far more in which she's entirely believable. If Wright avoids the "Culkin syndrome", she could have a bright future.

As always, Nick Nolte is the consummate professional, and his supporting cast is equally solid. Especially noteworthy is Albert Brooks, playing a tough-as-nails, repressed movie producer who has trouble committing to a relationship. This isn't a unique role, but Brooks acts the part with gusto.

I'll Do Anything is blessed with a wonderful screenplay that is equal parts drama and comedy. The emotional texture is surprisingly firm, especially as it relates to Matt and Jeannie, but there are plenty of laughs to be had. Much of the script works because it rarely strays from the commonplace. Since the audience can therefore relate to the characters and their situations, the movie has an impact. Those scenes that go over-the- top, such as the incident with Jeannie running around screaming on an airplane, come across as silly and unnecessary.

I'll Do Anything presents similar themes to those developed in, among other projects, The Player, The Big Picture, and Mistress. The satire isn't as biting because the overall intention is to create a human interest story rather than a cynical look at a jaded industry ripe for parody.

Movies about parent/child relationships are usually riddled with formulas. However, while James Brooks' project occasionally allows a too-pat resolution to slip by, there are a few minor surprises. I'll Do Anything can justifiably boast a freshness and intelligence too often absent from motion pictures. Just take a look at My Father the Hero for an example of how a film can take a similar idea and completely botch it.

The greatest strength of I'll Do Anything isn't difficult to pinpoint -- it has immense appeal. Not only is the movie well-scripted and competently-acted, but it presents its characters in such a way that the audience can feel for them without being aware of overt manipulation. James Brooks, the director of such films as Broadcast News and Terms of Endearment, has delivered a rare jewel in the bleakness of February's movie wasteland. I'll Do Anything may have started life as a failed musical, but, with judicious edits and re-shoots, it has become a thoroughly enjoyable dramatic comedy.

I'll Do Anything (United States, 1994)

Director: James L. Brooks
Cast: Nick Nolte, Whittni Wright, Albert Brooks, Joely Richardson, Julie Kavner, Tracey Ullman
Screenplay: James L. Brooks
Cinematography: Michael Ballhaus
Music: Hans Zimmer
U.S. Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Run Time: 1:56
U.S. Release Date: 1994-02-04
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Nudity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1