Anything Else

Anything Else

USA, 2003. Rated R. 108 minutes.

Cast: Jason Biggs, Christina Ricci, Woody Allen, Stockard Channing, Danny DeVito, William Hill, KaDee Strickland, Jimmy Fallon, Adrian Grenier, Erica Leerhsen
Writer: Woody Allen
Original Music: none credited
Cinematography: Darius Khondji
Producer: Letty Aronson
Director: Woody Allen


Grade: B Review by Carlo Cavagna

Woody Allen makes too many movies. A workaholic driven to write and direct a film annually, Allen often brings recycled or under-gestated ideas to the screen. Very few of his films are downright bad, but he has, over the last twenty years, been prone to mediocrity. The current sub-par run includes Small Time Crooks, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, and Hollywood Ending. His talent is such, however, that every fourth or fifth year, he will hit one out of the park. While it may not have all the juice of his best work, Anything Else still manages to make it over the fence.

Allen seems to recognize sporadically that no one wants to see him play a romantic lead anymore, and so he sometimes cast other people as, basically, himself. This has led to such actors as Kenneth Branagh donning the Allen persona like an ill-fitting suit (Celebrity). While not nearly as fine an actor as Branagh, Jason Biggs (American Pie) makes a better choice for Allen's mannerisms and stammering neuroses, having become a star in his own right via self-doubting anxiety.

Biggs is Jerry Falk, an aspiring young New York City comedy writer who can't break up with anybody—not his do-nothing joke of an agent Harvey (Danny DeVito), who collects an excessive 25 percent commission despite commanding no respect—not his say-nothing joke of a therapist (William Hill), who would prefer to hear Jerry recount his dreams about the entire Cleveland Indians roster working at Toys R Us than about his actual problems—and not his do-anyone joke of a girlfriend Amanda (Christina Ricci), with whom he hasn't slept in six months.
Christina Ricci and Jason Biggs
Amanda (Christina Ricci) is good at reassuring her increasingly skeptical boyfriend Jerry (Jason Biggs) that their relationship is solid in Woody Allen's latest comedy Anything Else.

Obsessed with her body image ("I can't sing publicly—I'm too fat") and terrified by commitment, Amanda is herself a typically neurotic Allen character. Her rationales for her nightmare-girlfriend behavior are hilarious, simultaneously reasonable and outrageous. She can't get excited by Jerry anymore because he reminds her of her father. She's attracted to other guys because they also remind her of her father. She is basically a big baby, transparent to everyone except Jerry, who falls for her at first sight, pretending not to be the stick-in-the-mud he is, and, of course, paying for it later. It is quickly obvious that Amanda is the wrong woman for Jerry, but when most people develop a crush on someone, they ignore the warning signs. All those things that cause problems down the road just make someone more fascinating and exotic in the beginning.

Allen brings along a cast of typically bizarre supporting characters, including Amanda's Madame Bovary mother (Stockard Channing) and Harvey, with his sales pitches developed around contradictory clothing analogies. Rather than reaching for ideas as he did in his last two films, Allen chooses not to try anything new. With a sharply funny script packed with memorable lines, Allen just does what he does, and he does it very well. His only major misstep is asking Biggs to talk directly to the camera, commenting on his life and the other characters, without adding any information the verbose script doesn't already communicate.

Well, hang on a minute. There are two new things in Anything Else. First, Allen, who plays a major role, does not portray himself. Sure, David Dobel, an aging schoolteacher who also aspires to write comedy, has Allen's gestures and way of speaking, but he's not neurotic. He is paranoid, obsessed with the Holocaust, and has a history of wearing straightjackets, but this insane character is actually the voice of reason in Jerry's life, providing copious insights into "the giant so-what" and urging him to break off all his dysfunctional relationships. Of course, while helping Jerry conquer his insecurities, Dobel also convinces him to own a rifle (an old Russian army weapon complete with bayonet), but hey—small price to pay for a sounding board actually willing to express opinions.

And the second thing? The second thing is that Allen, notoriously passionate about the city he calls home, may have made his first movie where he seems to realize that a world outside of New York City exists, and that it might not be so bad after all.

Review © September 2003 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images 2003 DreamWorks LLC. All Rights Reserved.

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