'His Way': That's the Way It Works

More a celebration than an assessment, the movie begins with Jerry Weintraub's considerable reputation as a showman.

His Way

Director: Douglas McGrath
Cast: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, George H.W. Bush, Jerry Weintraub, Jane Morgan, Matt Damon
Rated: NR
Studio: HBO Documentaries
Year: 2010
US date: 2011-04-04 (HBO)

"He's one lucky motherfucker." One of a litany of one-line descriptions of Jerry Weintraub, Julia Roberts' seems especially concise. Not to mention designed to showcase a combination of her earthy charms and his cool kids' club appeal. With other testimonies from George Clooney, Bruce Willis, and Andy Garcia, the opening of His Way introduces what's coming -- a cheerful portrait of a guy who has everything.

Airing this month on HBO, Douglas McGrath's documentary offers not only interviews with celebrities and Hollywood insiders, but also the expected footage of his projects (the Carpenters, John Denver, the Karate Kid) and impressive photo array. As "King Creole" plays beneath ("When the king starts to do it, / It's as good as done"), Weintraub smiles broadly with Elvis, Sinatra, Cary Grant, John Belushi, and Stallone and the Governator together. Not to mention George Bush the Elder and George Wallace too. Yes, Weintraub has lots of friends. And yes, he knows how to use them.

More a celebration than an assessment, the movie begins with Weintraub's considerable reputation as a showman. Brad Pitt decrees, "He's Ringling Bros., he's Barnum and Bailey," and Jimmy Caan calls him "Houdini." As these talking heads appear in nice hotel rooms or set against self-consciously cheesy L.A. backdrops -- blown-up photos of Van de Kamp's

He's a terrific storyteller too, and the movie lets him have at it. If his memories aren't wholly accurate, it hardly matters. He's selling something here, the story of Jerry Weintraub.

Just so, Weintraub says, he took to heart his dad's first lesson in economics, namely, that the red jacket he wanted as a boy who adored James Dean could indeed be his if... Weintraub recalls his father saying, "You go out, you get a job, you earn the $11, you give it to the man and get the jacket. That's the way it works." From then on, maybe, Weintraub was convinced that he would have whatever he wanted, as long as he put in the effort. Caan adds that he got his street smarts in the Bronx: "Jerry had the good fortune of surviving a neighborhood," like Caan himself. And that helped him to know early on, "Who's your friend."

Of course, such knowledge depends on its underside, recognizing opponents and rivals, and knowing how to intimidate. "He's the toughest guy in any industry," enthuses CAA's Bryan Lourd, even if "Sometimes, he doesn't have a governor in his brain." The mix of effects inspires Ellen Barkin 's description: "He's tough as nails but he has, like, a mushy marshmallow center." All this love is justified, the film allows, because, no matter what you think of Weintraub's tactics or motives, he gets jobs done, from the Four Seasons and Neil Diamond to Nashville and Diner. And, of course, the films that brought him into contact with Clooney and company (including this documentary's executive producer, Steven Soderbergh), the Ocean's remakes. Everyone involved in these has good things to say, including Ralph Macchio, who notes that once an unwilling Weintraub was convinced that Pat Morita could do the part, he was "smart enough to let this go through."

The happy family vibe is elaborated in references to Weintraub's actual family. Following a brief mention of a first, unnamed wife ("I was not a good husband, I was not a good person for her"), Weintraub and Jane Morgan describe their first meeting, when her husband at the time recommended him as a new manager (here Bush remembers her from Kennebunkport, a whole new dimension of namedropping). "He came in my dressing room and I thought, 'This guy is really unusual,'" says Morgan. "Something about the look in his eye, maybe a little crazy, but it was interesting, very interesting. And I like interesting and crazy. He became my manager."

And, after they both got divorces, he became her husband too. "She believed in me and she helped me and she made me feel good," says Weintraub. "I hadn’t experienced what she had, she had traveled." As they worked together on expanding his horizons, "I was her manager, but she was my manager." More recently, that is, 20 years ago, Weintraub started living with Susie Ekins, erstwhile PA. The film holds out this information until late, so if you don't know coming in, it seems something like a climactic flourish. But according to his associates, the relationship among the three parties makes sense for them. While the jokes and asides could be too cute (Roberts lilts, "Come and knock on our door!"), Lourd points out, "They're two remarkable women, to: a) put up with him, but, b) have the sort of confidence to live uniquely as they do."

For a moment, the documentary tips toward seriousness, in the vaguest, most upbeat way. Ekins says, "All I can say is, we fell in love." Morgan says, "I think I had a different view of how people should handle their marital relations than a lot of Americans do, who haven't experienced what I went through those years I lived in Europe." One of Morgan and Weintraub's daughters adds, "Somehow, my dad worked it out and that's the way it was and however he does it, like everything he does, it just kind of worked out." However he does it.





How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?


The 50 Best Songs of 2007

Journey back 13 years to a stellar year for Rihanna, M.I.A., Arcade Fire, and Kanye West. From hip-hop to indie rock and everywhere in between, PopMatters picks the best 50 songs of 2007.


'Modern' Is the Pinnacle of Post-Comeback Buzzcocks' Records

Presented as part of the new Buzzcocks' box-set, Sell You Everything, Modern showed a band that wasn't interested in just repeating itself or playing to nostalgia.


​Nearly 50 and Nearly Unplugged: 'ChangesNowBowie' Is a Glimpse Into a Brilliant Mind

Nine tracks, recorded by the BBC in 1996 show David Bowie in a relaxed and playful mood. ChangesNowBowie is a glimpse into a brilliant mind.


Reaching for the Sky: An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Bruce Sudano

How did Bruce Sudano become a superhero? PopMatters has the answer as Sudano celebrates the release of Spirals and reflects on his career from Brooklyn Dreams to Broadway.


Inventions Conjure Mystery and Hope with the Intensely Creative 'Continuous Portrait'

Instrumental duo Matthew Robert Cooper (Eluvium) and Mark T. Smith (Explosions in the Sky) release their first album in five years as Inventions. Continuous Portrait is both sonically thrilling and oddly soothing.


Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch Are 'Live at the Village Vanguard' to Raise Money for Musicians

Esperanza Spalding and Fred Hersch release a live recording from a 2018 show to raise money for a good cause: other jazz musicians.


Lady Gaga's 'Chromatica' Hides Its True Intentions Behind Dancefloor Exuberance

Lady Gaga's Chromatica is the most lively and consistent record she's made since Born This Way, embracing everything great about her dance-pop early days and giving it a fresh twist.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.


Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.


Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.