Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ironic Title, You SHOULD Watch Anything Else: "Anything Else" (2003)

Iconic writer/director Woody Allen tries to do a modern romantic comedy that is surprisingly unfunny, and rips himself off in turn.

Jerry Falk (Jason Biggs) is a twenty-one year old comedy writer living in New York City. He meets sixty-one year old comedy writer David Dobel (Woody Allen), a paranoid teacher who stashes guns and survival equipment to protect himself in case the Nazis ever rise again. Jerry is in a committed relationship with the beautiful and sexy Amanda (Christina Ricci). Jerry fell in love with her at first sight, and once their whirlwind romance was consummated and they moved in together, trouble began. Jerry tries to hold his life together, dealing with such stock characters as Amanda's obnoxious mother, Laura (Stockard Channing), and his hopelessly inept manager Harvey (Danny DeVito). Jerry faces a life changing decision, whether to move to California to write for television with David or try to stick it out with the flaky Amanda.

For years, the new round of endless romantic comedies have sometimes ripped off Woody Allen. Urbane city dwellers who have apartment issues while seeing bored psychoanalysts are characters I have come to accept as par without really understanding, or caring, about them. "Anything Else" rubbed me the wrong way, all the way through.

I had the exact same reaction to Amanda as I did to Andie MacDowell's character in "Four Weddings and a Funeral"...what does this guy see in her? Ricci's Amanda starts out as the ideal woman, then the gloves come off and she immediately flakes out and becomes annoying. Deeper issues about Jerry's need for companionship at all costs are too evident in her character's change, I still liked looking at Ricci go braless more than caring about how she needs to cheat on Jerry in order to see if she could still have an orgasm.

Biggs is hot and cold as Jerry. Sometimes he takes his Allen impression way over the top (since all of Allen's leading men are basically playing him), but in other scenes his comic timing is dead on (trying to cover up his secret date with Amanda to his then current girlfriend). Allen miscasts himself as the brilliant but disturbed David. His paranoid fantasies are funny, his jokes about the rough school he works at are funny, but Allen delivers all the lines in the exact same way he has been delivering lines onscreen for almost forty years now. What Christopher Walken could have done with this part! Stockard Channing's Laura is straight out of a TV sitcom. Danny DeVito has the best scenes, a manager who has no business experience outside of the garment district, all of his stories and examples involve clothing. Jimmy Fallon is wasted in a cameo as one of Amanda's boyfriends, he looks completely lost.

Allen filmed a lot of the scenes in Central Park in what looks like summertime, and the film is nice to look at. Diana Krall plays herself, and jazz is sprinkled throughout, creating just the right mood. Technically, the film is very good, but all the pretty pictures cannot mask one of Allen's weakest scripts ever. Allen tries to one-up the cocaine scene from "Annie Hall," unsuccessfully, and how many times do we need to see the psychiatrist who sits by while the main character spills their guts out, only to ask the wrong question or tell them their time is up at the cusp of a breakthrough?

"Anything Else" caught me off guard, especially at how boring it sometimes becomes. The young cast seems willing, but Allen brings them down with limp execution. Anything else, indeed. (* *) out of five stars.