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The Kid Stays in the Picture

The most amazing thing happened in 2003: Robert Evans had his name on a hit. And in the grand tradition of nearly all of his former successes, it was the most unlikely of hits, too. But How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, in spite of its unwieldy title, somehow snared that fickle romantic comedy audience and rode their enthusiasm all the way to the $100 million promised land. Was it luck? Probably, but as Evans holds forth early on in Brett Morgan and Nanette Burstein's filmed version of his autobiography, The Kid Stays in the Picture, "Luck is when opportunity meets preparation." And it wasn't soon into Evans admittedly "half-assed" attempt at becoming an actor before the former woman's clothing salesman discovered the lucky chance for which he'd been preparing his entire life. He wanted to be Darryl F. Zanuck. Evans mellifluously intones his 90-minute narration with the self-satisfied purr of a man who knows he's been to the mountaintop and left an indelible mark in an industry where one's back is always being studied for an opportune spot in which to sink a knife. Knowing full well these dangers from his days as an actor, when, as he hilariously recalls, no less than Eva Gardner, Tyrone Power, and Hemingway himself conspired to have him removed from The Sun Also Rises, Evans quickly employed the best defense: He just kept moving. Following his pretty spectacular failure as an actor, Evans began the '60s by plunging headlong into the movie-producing racket, which led to his wholly unlikely and shockingly precipitous rise to becoming the production chief of then-struggling Paramount Pictures (with an assist by his longtime associate, Peter Bart.) This is when the film really starts cooking. Already regarded as one of Hollywood's most irresistibly compelling raconteurs, to hear Evans give voice to his own charmed run and inevitable fall as the man who saved Paramount, only to lose his mind to hubris and cocaine, is to is to akin to hearing a master storyteller sink his teeth into a volume of Poe.

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And Evans is never more captivating than when picking over the scattered ashes of his brief, but all consuming, marriage to actress Ali MacGraw. "She got to me… I didn't get to her," allows Evans. Listening to his version of their rocky courtship that got consummated in the nestled idyll of his Beverly Hills hideaway, Evans spins a wildly romantic yarn that puts to shame the tackily sentimental project, Love Story, that brought them together (Morgan and Burstein cannily employ Francis Lai's weepy theme as an emotionally grandiose underscore to the doomed affair.) Evans portrays MacGraw as a precocious, "snot-nosed" brat who's well aware of her volatile, muse-like effect on other men, which is why he blames himself for letting her slip through his overly ambitious fingers as he battled with Coppola whilst attempting to save The Godfather. It's instances like this, when Evans positions himself as the lone voice responsible for emboldening Coppola to bring in his masterpiece at three hours, that one is reminded of Evans's role as the helplessly unreliable narrator. As he states famously at the film's outset, "There are three sides to every story: your side, my side and the truth." And what he's suavely spoon-feeding the viewer is his own idealized survivor's tale. In lesser hands this would be disastrously alienating, but even though Evans version is, presumably, a trans-continental flight away from the truth, it's still an exquisitely told lie, enlivened by the collage of moving stills and clippings employed by Morgan and Burstein in lieu of dramatizations or talking heads. It's a sensationally entertaining film. Warner presents The Kid Stays in the Picture in a fine anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a filmmakers' commentary with Morgan and Burstein in which the pair discuss the nature of non-fiction filmmaking and the ways in which they've tried to subvert the tradition-bound form of the documentary (not surprisingly, this ingenuity cost them an Academy Award nomination). Also on board are a collection of featurettes divided into two sections — "The Truth According to Bob" and "The Truth According to Others" — which mostly offer up the more crass brand of self-aggrandizement (culled from awards ceremony speeches and premiere interviews) that is blessedly absent from the film. But there are a few nuggets, namely the full cut (sans film clips) of Evans's ballsy, eleventh-hour filmed plea to Gulf & Western stockholders that saved his job, and the Marathon Man gag reel, which finds Dustin Hoffman and Roy Scheider playing scenes in the producer's rapid-fire, mumbling manner. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks

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