Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Peter Bogdanovich Makes His Own Woody Allen Movie With She's Funny That Way

The Good: Some amusing moments, Decent performances, Good cast
The Bad: Familiar and contrived plot, Derivative narrative voice, Unlikable characters
The Basics: She's Funny That Way might have been a fine movie . . . if it weren't for the thousand virtually identical films that preceded it!

When She's Funny That Way began, the interview narrative technique and the deadpan interactions between stars Imogen Poots and Illeana Douglas are instantly evocative of Woody Allen. Writers Louise Stratten and Peter Bogdanovich (who directed the film) are telling a story with a narrative voice and situation that seems like they are attempting to replicate a Woody Allen film. It is only in the film's final moments that it becomes painfully clear that the derivative nature of the lines and situation is intentional; the writers completely use an "everything's been done" defense within the narrative to excuse their own lack of originality for much of the film.

She's Funny That Way is not inherently bad; it has an impressive cast who works their parts well and there are a few good lines and moments of humor. But what the film lacks is a moment where it pops. I went into She's Funny That Way blind - no expectations or foreknowledge of the film - and I continued to wait for the film to make me care about any one of the characters. Instead, most of the enthusiasm I had for the film came from outside it - "It's so nice to see Cybill Shepherd!" "Oh my gosh, Jennifer Aniston is unrecognizable! Fantastic!" But more than all that, the longer it went on, the more I felt like I had already seen She's Funny That Way - my mind went back to State And Main (reviewed here!) an inordinate number of times.

After her rise to fame, Isabella Patterson gives an interview to Judy, a reporter who is adept at cutting through the crap her subjects throw at her. Isabella tries to put her past in the best light, while revealing her pre-acting career as a call girl going by the name Glow Stick. One night, director Arnold Albertson arrives in New York City (attempting to avoid contact with his wife and kid) from Los Angeles and hires Glow Stick for a night of companionship. Albertson offers Glow Stick $30,000 to start her acting career in earnest. Glow Stick takes the money and, after a trip to her therapist where she gets her new professional acting name, she goes to audition for a Broadway play.

The play is written by Joshua Fleet and is being directed by Arnold Albertson. Fleet, Delta Simmons, and the actor Seth Gilbert all love Isabella's performance during the audition, but Arnold does not want to cast her. After a disastrous night out at dinner - where Josh and Isabella, Jane (Izzy's therapist) and the Judge, the Judge's private detective, Arnold and Delta, and Seth and his date all end up at the same Italian restaurant - Delta convinces Arnold to give Isabella the job. The film quickly degenerates into repeated farcical situations based on the fact that everyone is related in one way or another (like the Judge, who shares the same therapist with Izzy, is romantically obsessed with Glow Stick, and has hired a private detective - who is, incidentally, Josh's father - to find Glow Stick). The collision of characters comes to a head at the table read for Josh and Arnold's play.

She's Funny That Way is not an unpleasant film to watch, but it does lack a spark that leads one to even be enthusiastic about reviewing it. There are moments, especially early on, that show a glimmer of originality and potential: Jane (Izzy's therapist) has a dog door in her office and when the German Shepherd runs in during her session, it felt fresh. But ideas like that and the cab driver who abruptly strands Seth and Delta when he tires of their bickering feel more like good ideas worked into a film that was otherwise devoid of them. In other words, they come up in the movie so abruptly that they feel like great ideas the writers had and this was the project they decided to stuff them into.

None of the characters in She's Funny That Way are particularly likable.

The farce plot allows the actors to play well-enough, though none are given big emotional moments. The surprise performance for me had to be that of Rhys Ifans as Seth Gilbert. Ifans was introduced to me (and most of the American moviegoing public) in The Amazing Spider-Man (reviewed here!). Seth Gilbert is utterly devoid of the intellect, posture and human compassion with which Rhys Ifans established his OsCorp scientist character in the summer blockbuster a few years back. Ifans has range and the more I see of him in roles where he plays a grimy schlub, the more impressed I am that Sony saw his potential for The Amazing Spider-Man!

The rest of the cast - led by Imogen Poots, Owen Wilson, and Illeana Douglas - is good, but their roles and performances are unremarkable. Cybill Shepherd and Richard Lewis are basically given cameos as loud, nagging parents without any real depth or character; Kathryn Hahn and Will Forte play their parts as Delta and Josh without any spark or distinction that would make them stand out (both have had stand-out, distinctive, roles before, so this is a definite change for both).

Ultimately, She's Funny That Way is a lackluster indie comedy that is bound to get buried beneath the tripe this Summer Blockbuster Season . . . but it's not clear that it didn't deserve to go so overlooked.

For other works with Austin Pendleton, please check out my reviews of:
Game Change
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
A Beautiful Mind
Homicide: The Movie


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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