The Deal, a lighthearted industry satire, can be loosely deemed a "romantic comedy," though there's not much romance and the comedy sometimes comes out flat. William H. Macy wrote the screenplay from Peter Lefcourt's novel and the movie is so filled with winky inside jokes about Hollywood and The Film Industry that one grows tired trying to catch them all. Still, it's not without its charms and fun silliness. It isn't a movie I would seek out ever again, but it was certainly a welcome reprieve from some of the more draining Sundance fare this year.
Meg Ryan and William H. Macy serve as the film's core romantic couple who supposedly have passion for one another simmering below all their sassy, contentious banter. Macy plays the formerly successful now deeply depressed filmmaker Charlie Berns whose suicide attempts are interrupted when his bright, upbeat nephew Lionel (the ridiculously cute Jason Ritter) comes to town toting his screenplay about about 19th century English statesman Benjamin Disraeli. Suddenly, Charlie is struck with the inspiration to make his nephew's script into a big-budget action flick starring the hot actor of the time: a giant beefcake (LL Cool J) who recently converted to Judaism. From there, it's just a matter of getting a studio to back the project and a couple writers to rewrite the script into Hollywood fluff. Of course, it's not quite that easy, so read more.
Enter studio head Deidre Hearn (Ryan) who struggles to balance the demands of her studio, Charlie's ambivalent attitude, the action star's fickleness and the director's temper. Just when things are looking okay, however, the film's star is kidnapped from the South African set. Like most things since Charlie stopped caring about life, this doesn't faze him at all and he charges ahead with a plan to save the movie.
For the most part, Charlie gets a lot of what he wants with this film project because he's basically given up on Hollywood and his life, and has taken to making brash crazy decisions since the repercussions don't really matter to him. It seems like the bottom line here is that the only way to deal with Hollywood is if you're suicidal and don't give a damn about anything anymore. Which, in this case, is actually done in a darkly funny way.
The Sundance guide's description of The Deal claims that "The mischievous charm in this smart screwball satire . . . hinges on the wonderfully crackly Tracy-Hepburn chemistry between William Macy and Meg Ryan." This a huge exaggeration, though I can see how someone promoting the film might write that. On paper, the back-and-forth could be seen as funny and electric, and both actors put in a lot of effort to make the chemistry "crackle." But they both just seem tired here and it's hard to buy them as friends, much less sexual companions.
It's also mildly disturbing to see Ryan sort of channeling her role from When Harry Met Sally when she currently seems to have a hard time being physically expressive. I like Meg Ryan and I don't want to be unkind, but she can't move her facial features very well anymore, making it hard for those eyebrows to arch in indignation or those eyes to twinkle in joy. Her sweet little voice is still the same, but everything else is just the spooky skeletal remains of the romantic leading lady she once was. It made me sad, and the rest of the film — while humorous — didn't make me laugh enough to make up for it.