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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Anything Else, (2003)

In some ways it must be more difficult to work when you're an icon. Your critics will always compare your recent work to your previous work--the work that made you an icon--and you're forever having to answer questions about why you don't 'return to your roots' or something.1 That said, Anything Else isn't Woody Allen's best, but it's better than most comedy-dramas.

This is a movie that stars young actors, was marketed to a young audience, and was written with a young-adult perspective. But this isn't a young movie. The best scenes in the film are from the older actors--Danny DeVito, Stockard Channing, Woody Allen--while Jason Biggs is unconvincing.

Biggs is Jerry Falk, a comedy writer in New York who has trouble ending bad relationships. He's got a leech of a manager who takes 25% of his wages, a lying, dysfunctional girlfriend (Christina Ricci), and a therapist who won't talk to him. He can end these relationships at any time, but he refuses to do it because he feels somehow responsible for the other person. Jerry meets David Dobel (Woody Allen), a teacher and struggling comedy writer who has tons of advice, and equal amounts of paranoia. Dobel encourages Jerry to stand up for himself, but Jerry would rather be tortured by staying in a relationship than endure the difficulty of breaking it off. These bad relationships continue to test Jerry's endurance, and since this is a movie, he is eventually forced to make some tough decisions. (They don't turn out exactly as he plans, though.)

This is a dialogue-heavy film, which is good, since Woody Allen is doing the writing. The speeches by Dobel are always rich and entertaining, Stockard Channing's scenes are notable, and Christina Ricci plays the manipulative girlfriend so well you almost begin to feel sorry for Jerry. The dilemma Allen presents for Jerry is compelling and universal, even if it is being portrayed by the guy who stuck his dick in the warm apple pie.

That's not Anything Else's biggest problem, but it is representative of it. Allen works with a strange paradigm here--a youth-oriented movie with very mature, adult themes. There are a few other middling issues--the movie is about 20 minutes too long, I was distracted by Jerry's seemingly limitless wealth, and there are inconsistencies in his character. However, Allen explores familiar themes to a satisfying degree, and there are definitely a couple of dialogue gold nuggets. It's an interesting movie for Allen fans, but not something that the casual viewer would talk about at the water cooler the following Monday.

1Jonathan Lethem addresses this in his recent Rolling Stone interview with--icon of all icons--Bob Dylan:
Yet it's awfully easy, taking the role of Dylan's interviewer, to feel oneself playing surrogate for an audience that has never quit holding its hero to an impossible standard: The more he offers, the more we want. The greatest artist of my lifetime has given me anything I could ever have thought to ask, and yet here I sit, somehow brokering between him and the expectations neither of us can pretend don't exist. "If I've got any kind of attitude about me -- or about what I do, what I perform, what I sing, on any level, my attitude is, compare it to somebody else! Don't compare it to me. Are you going to compare Neil Young to Neil Young? Compare it to somebody else, compare it to Beck -- which I like -- or whoever else is on his level. This record should be compared to the artists who are working on the same ground."



Blogger Andiar said...

I may or may not have seen this movie three times in the theatre for different reasons. Like you said, I liked it but I'm a Woody Allen fan.

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