it's not 'American Pie 4,' but 'Anything Else,' a distinctive
Woody Allen film with young stars Jason Biggs and Christina
Written and directed by Woody Allen
Produced by Letty Aronson
Starring Jason Biggs, Christina Ricci, Woody Allen, Stockard
Channing, Danny DeVito and Jimmy Fallon
The promotions for “Anything
Else” portray the film as a romantic comedy with two hot young
stars. In actuality, it’s pure Woody Allen and couldn’t
have been anything else if the writer/director/actor had intended
it to be. Even in his films with no Allen-like characters—like
1999’s “Sweet and Lowdown,” with its amazing Sean
Penn performance—the long takes and experiments with the medium,
witty dialogue and existential conflict are all there.
“Anything Else” has more substance than the last few
Allen films, which were basically larks, but still contains enough
witty dialogue for 10 average screenplays.
Jason Biggs of “American Pie” fame and Christina Ricci,
who grew up on screen in independent and Hollywood films, play 20-something
neurotics who live in New York City and experience a modernist struggle.
Take out the 20-somethings, and I’ve just described several
other recent Allen films.
In the film’s early scenes, we’re reminded of Allen’s
masterpiece “Annie Hall” as jokes are used to express
greater truths in life, and the hero meets his girlfriend, who shows
up late for a date, and then remembers how the relationship started.
Biggs plays Jerry Falk, a young comedy writer struggling with his
girlfriend, Amanda (Ricci) and his career, which is under the clumsy
hands of his agent, Harvey (Danny Devito). The date Amanda shows
up late for is their anniversary dinner—and she’s already
eaten. If things weren’t bad enough for Falk, he’s also
on the sixth month in which Amanda hasn’t been in the mood
to sleep with him. He doesn’t know if she’s in the mood
to sleep with other people or not.
While Falk’s traits are clearly based on Allen’s persona,
Allen also wrote himself into a large supporting role as Falk’s
mentor, Dobel. A writer who never had enough confidence to quit
his teaching job, Dobel serves as a jolt to tell Falk the things
that he’s in denial over. Two neurotic character types in
one film is a major risk, but there’s enough of a difference
between them that the film works.
Allen’s character is different from the characters he’s
played in the past. While he’s still the witty neurotic fans
have come to expect, his neuroses result in a contrasting personality.
He gives Falk a sometimes violently extreme version of the personality
he wishes he had.
At times, he makes sense with his logical conclusions about Falk’s
girlfriend, agent and analyst. Other times, however, he reveals
insane paranoia and explains his obsessions with disaster and intruder
preparation. He even buys Falk a shotgun to protect himself from,
in his words, criminals, anti-Semites and rapists.
In one very funny and satisfying scene, Dobel retaliates against
some bullies in a scene that must have been brewing in Allen for
years. Serving as a contrast to his usual persona, Allen plays wild
neurotic to Biggs’s self-conscious neurotic.
If not delivered properly, Allen’s deliberate fast-and-slow
dialogue can sound phony, no matter how well-written it is. John
Cusack masterfully put his own spin on the Allen-type character
in “Bullets Over Broadway,” but even actors as talented
as Kenneth Branagh have failed to put an original spin on it. Biggs
does better than you might expect from his short career, but still
has trouble with the occasional spontaneous outbursts and pauses.
The emotions resonate, however, and the comedy never gets lost.
Falk struggles with modernist Allen conflicts while working on a
novel about life’s emptiness in addition to his comedy.
Ricci and Biggs create nice comic situations as the conflicting
couple. Amanda is a walking contradiction and she drives Falk into
extreme uneasiness. Stockard Channing is dead-on playing Amanda’s
mother, a promiscuous lush who moves in with the couple and heightens
the comedy of their arguments.
In most scenes, Allen lets the comedy speak for itself in long takes.
He also uses one of his favorite monologue techniques, as Biggs
steps out of a scene to discuss his hang-ups with the audience.
It’s unclear whether Allen’s technique will play well
with the audience the studio is trying to sell it to. That generation
has been brought up on fast cuts and special effects, not modernist
discussion and cinematic technique. But the sexual humor might win
people over and the artist constantly works, regardless of success
or failure, trying new things but always being Woody.