| Dir: Woody Allen
“I couldn’t decide between giving you Sarte or O’Neill. Whose nihilistic pessimism would make you happiest?”
Despite the younger star appeal and a marketing campaign that promoted a return to the Annie Hall style romcom, Anything Else became Allen’s lowest grossing film since 1990’s Shadows and Fog. His 2003 effort concluded Allen’s DreamWorks era of slight comedies, where the former auteur languished in a mediocre rut founded on recycling old material and worn-out ideas. This trend of middling ‘comedies’ damaged his short-term box office appeal. It’s one of Woody Allen’s worst films and probably deserves to be one of his worst grossing pictures.
Anything Else (a title originally considered for 1989’s Crimes and Misdemeanours) evolved from a draft novel which Allen had been writing in the preceding years with effectively the same story. A neurotic young man falls for a beautiful but even more neurotic young woman and needs to take guidance from an older but not so wiser artist. “There were many funny things in the book but it wasn’t really good enough”, noted Allen honestly. Yet its reworking into a screenplay still feels like a laboured effort.
The Annie Hall throwback which Allen is seemingly going for here, unconsciously or not, hardly replicates the poignancy of the eggs. Told in a non-linear fashion with an assortment of retreaded storytelling devices, this romance about failing comedy writer Jerry (Jason Biggs, hot off the American Pie film series) and destructive young actress Amanda (Christina Ricci) feels like an unofficial spiritual sequel to Allen’s breakthrough, pioneering hit. At best, you could liken it to Alvy’s play at the end of Annie Hall where he manipulates the unwelcome harshness of reality for younger surrogates to achieve his desired outcomes as fantasy. The title of the film is explained by Jerry:
“I was pouring my heart out to the cab driver about all the stuff you were prattling on about a minute ago. Life, death, the empty universe, the meaning of existence, human suffering. And, uh, the cab driver said to me: ‘Y’know, it’s like anything else. Think about that.’ How strange life is. Full of inexplicable mystery.”
However, we’ve heard it all before and the only inexplicable mystery is in deciphering Allen’s perception of the finished product. After some surprisingly positive comments regarding Hollywood Ending, Allen reflected that he thought Anything Else “was a good movie…I think it came off fairly well.” His voice as an artist is a valued and unique one; it has enlightened and entertained cinema-goers for decades. 37 years on, however, he offers no fresh insight into the murky and complex web of relationships.
It’s a misogynistic film where the faults of the females are amplified and the obvious psychological maladies of the males are treated as benign. There’s a couple of decent laughs (“Of course she’s crazy. The Pentagon should use her hormones for chemical suicide.”, “Do you love me?” / “What a question! Just because I pull away when you touch me?”) buried in almost two hours with truly unlikeable and uninteresting human beings. Add in poor casting, forced performances and an arrogant on-screen Allen on auto pilot with some false narrative notions – this is probably his first outright bad film in his 37 year career (to this date) as a filmmaker. There’s also the latest of many rather uncomfortable lines about incest, child molestation and Oedipus in his work, from Jerry to Amanda, which can either be viewed as purposefully provocative or willfully ignorant to how the world views the allegations embroiled in his legacy:
“You once told me that you thought your father was sexually attractive.”
“Now she’s difficult. Soon she’ll be impossible” proposes Jerry about Amanda. You hope that this isn’t a prophetic trajectory for Woody Allen himself – his filmography, his career and his personal life.
Part of Woody Wednesday. First viewing.