In professional wrestling, when a performer is incredibly talented in the ring but lacks the public speaking skills necessary to succeed in the business, promotions will usually pair them with a “manager,” a hype man who can do the talking for them. Paul Heyman currently fills this role for WWE champion Brock Lesnar, who looks like an absolute beast when he wrestles, but can’t match a fraction of the gusto conveyed by Heyman’s world class shit-talking skills on the mic. Movie producer Robert Evans could use a pro wrestling manager. A hotshot maverick who helped transform the cinema landscape as a Paramount Pictures executive in the New Hollywood era, Evans has an incredible story to tell, but few of the skills necessary to tell them well. In short, he’s an unlikable blowhard, one who barrels through his own boardroom war stories as if he’s vacuuming up rails of coke. His fast-paced, monotone voice-over delivery does no favors for his objectively fascinating anecdotes, besides maybe keeping them succinct. The history of Robert Evans’s professional life is a wild tale, but it’s likely one that should have been delivered by anyone else in the world besides the asshole who lived it, who’s so rushed & incomprehensible he borders on requiring subtitles to be understood. At one time in the 1970s, Robert Evans had everything he could want in the world, but to this day he lacks the one thing he needs most: a hype man, a manager.
The documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture makes the ill-advised decision of providing a platform for Bob Evans to tell his own story, read from his autobiography, despite his goddawful mic skills. Not only does this skew the truth behind what ends up being a great story anyway; it also constantly reminds you that it could not have happened to a bigger schmuck. It’s a testament to just how unlikely & compelling Evans’s E! True Hollywood Story is on its own merits that the documentary remains intensely watchable throughout, despite the giant asshole it’s meant to mythologize constantly getting in the way. Evans was the Vice President of a NYC sportswear company before being “discovered” as an actor poolside in LA. He’ll be the first to admit that he was only a “half-assed” actor, cast entirely for his looks instead of his skills, but the few roles he landed gave his business-minded brain an unignorable hunger for the movie industry. He used the publicity generated from his unusual entry into Hollywood to maneuver his way into a position as producer for Paramount Pictures. At the time, the studio was struggling for survival as the 60s were dying out & younger audiences were desperate for the New Hollywood adrenaline that was soon to come. Evans helped drive this Hollywood revival, developing a string of smash cultural hits that revitalized his studio: Rosemary’s Baby, Love Story, The Godfather, Harold & Maude, Paper Moon, Chinatown, etc. According to Evans, he personally had to fight to make sure every picture survived, explaining to the studio why they needed Roman Polanski to direct, how Sicilian mobster films could possibly be a hit, and so on. You’d think he was the greatest genius of all time by the way he tells it, but that didn’t prevent him at all from succumbing to the downfalls of cocaine, lawsuits, criminal cases, and having romantic partners wooed by Steve McQueen that end all tragic Hollywood stories. He’s a lot more stingy with the details on those particular anecdotes, but they do color the credibility of his all-out success stories.
I’m being very hard on Evans here, but after listening to him philosophize about “dames,” “Pollacks,” and the differences between Sicilians & Jews for 90 minutes, I couldn’t help but think of him as tacky at best, a raging asshole at worst. The Kid Stays in the Picture is a special kind of vanity project that not only glorifies its subject as The Greatest Genius Who Ever Lived, but also operates as a sort of CliffsNotes advertisement for his autobiography by the same name. I suppose Evans is somewhat charming in his old-fashioned brand of assholery. At the very least, I appreciate the abrupt, ornery way the movie concludes with a “I’m still here, you fucks!” sentiment. Directors Brett Morgan & Nanette Burstein also do an excellent job of assembling archival footage & photographs, not only of Evans hamming it up for the press, but of backstage gems like Mia Farrow dancing in her Rosemary’s Baby costuming. Digital cinematography detailing Evans’s New Hollywood mansion unfortunately has a cheap, television-grade quality to it, but otherwise the doc has a fantastic collage-in-motion effect that matches its subject’s energy nicely. I especially admire the way it assumes the audience recognizes every film & celebrity referenced onscreen and uses their imagery for artistic effect without over-explaining their cultural significance. Really, the only problem with the film is Evans himself; he really could have used a hype man as a narrator to cut down on his monotone bravado. However, the story is too good to toss aside just because it details the life of a schmuck and a blowhard.