She’s Funny That Way (2014)
Let Comedy Reign
Following a lengthy twelve-year hiatus, She’s Funny That Way marks critic-turned-director Peter Bogdanovich’s return to the big screen in a Woody Allen-esque throwback to the classic screwball comedies of yesteryear. Given his rich admiration for the golden age of cinema, She’s Funny That Way pays homage to the Hollywood heyday of the ‘30s and ‘40s, in a zany old school rom-com that’s fraught with luminous wit, comic misunderstandings and outright bad timing, evocative of the bygone comic era.
Returning to the genre in which Bogdanovich is clearly quite adept — just look at his early critical and box office hits with comedies such as What’s Up, Doc? (1972) and Paper Moon (1973) — She’s Funny That Way centers on and around Isabella ‘Izzy’ Patterson (Imogen Poots), a Brooklyn-born call girl turned Hollywood starlet, who recalls how the actions of a hotshot director, Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson), changed her life forever. Speaking to cynical interviewer Judy (Illeana Douglas), Izzy recollects how accepting $30,000 from Arnold — to quit being a hooker and pursue her dreams of becoming an actress — ignited a topsy-turvy chain of events that altered the lives of several others she encountered. From Arnold’s wife and the star of his play, Delta Simmons (Kathryn Hahn), to her co-star Seth Gilbert (Rhys Ifans) who’s visibly still got a ‘thing’ for Delta. Then there’s Isabella’s highly strung therapist, Jane (Jennifer Aniston), who happens to be dating the playwright Joshua Fleet (Will Forte), whilst esteemed well-known Judge Pendergast (Austin Pendleton), a former client of Isabella’s who’s somewhat obsessed with her, also gets involved. Even a mysterious detective (George Morfogen), hired by the judge, turns out to be the playwright Joshua Fleet’s father; you got all that?
Although completely modern in its structure, characters, set-ups, and locations, She’s Funny That Way boasts a traditional, vintage feel and an old-school polish which shouldn’t come as a surprise, seeing as Noah Baumbach, Frances Ha (2012), and the eccentric Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) — both celebrated for their distinctive visual and narrative styles — share producing credits on the project. Originally titled Squirrel To The Nuts — a line from Ernst Lubitsch’s Cluny Brown (1946) that reverberates throughout the film — She’s Funny That Way was conceived by Bogdanovich and his now ex-wife Louise Stratten some 15 years ago, with Stratten set to play the part of Isabella and the late John Ritter, Arnold. Working from a script that’s obviously been revised for contemporary audiences, certain elements of the flick feel a little off or out-of-date — Isabella takes her bookings via landline for instance — while the whole picture comes across as though it were made for theater; it’s a little too monologue heavy at some points while its shenanigans never quite reach the cinematic heights they ought to. There are some solid farcical setups, including a riotous confrontation in a ritzy restaurant, however, nothing in the picture is as ‘funny’ as it could or should really be. In addition, given its situational premise and subject matter, She’s Funny That Way shares far too many similarities with Woody Allen’s superior 1995 flick, Mighty Aphrodite.
Disappointingly, the stellar ensemble cast deliver frustratingly mixed performances. Imogen Poots, Need for Speed (2014), does quite well in the familiar part of ‘the hooker with a heart of gold,’ even if her Brooklyn accent feels a tad overcooked; Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris (2011), is as charming and easygoing as always, portraying the charismatic Arnold Albertson, a successful film director who’s moved onto Broadway; Rhys Ifans, The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), is dynamic and engaging as the self-absorbed, matinee-idol Seth Gilbert, although it’s rather difficult to buy Ifans as a sex symbol; Jennifer Aniston, We’re the Millers (2013), is a hoot as the nervy therapist who’s wound up tighter than her patients — speaking in a sped-up tempo that’s reminiscent of classic Hollywood comedies from the 1930s — whereas Will Forte, MacGruber (2010), delivers a bland, forgettable performance as her husband, playwright Joshua Fleet. Rounding out the cast is Kathryn Hahn, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), who plays Albertson’s wife and leading lady Delta Simmons, exhibiting her natural flair for comedy. Moreover, Bogdanovich plasters the picture with a number of cameos from the likes of Michael Shannon, Man of Steel (2013), who shows up as a security guard, Cybill Shepherd, The Last Picture Show (1971), popping up as Izzy’s mother, and the great director Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction (1994), who makes an appearance in the flick’s wraparound section.
Okay, She’s Funny That Way does make for a quirky slapstick entertainer, especially when its pitting its crazy personalities against one another; in spite of this, the flick often feels like a second-rate Woody Allen knock-off, with too many sluggish or flat moments in-between the harebrained antics and exaggerated mishaps. Spearheaded by varied performances from its talent-filled cast, this nostalgia-fueled picture fails to do anything particularly new or overly interesting, falling short of its tremendous potential. Bar an attractive cast and its classic Hollywood reverence, She’s Funny That Way is madcap mediocrity at best and just simply isn’t that funny.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
She’s Funny That Way is released through Buena Vista Australia & New Zealand