Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Stars: Owen Wilson, Imogen Poots, Rhys Ifans, Kathryn Hahn, Jennifer Aniston, Will Forte, Austin Pendleton, Joanna Lumley, Cybill Shepherd, Michael Shannon, Tatum O’Neal, Debi Mazar, George Morgofen, Tovah Feldshuh, Colleen Camp, Jennifer Esposito.
We haven’t seen much from former film historian and critic turned director Peter Bogdanovich on the big screen for a long time, as he has spent much of the past two decades concentrating on tv movies and directing the odd music video and an occasional episode of The Sopranos. Bogdanovich was an auteur who made some great films in the 70s with The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon, Mask, etc, and he gave us one of the great modern screwball comedies with What’s Up, Doc? in 1972, which was influenced by the comedies of Howard Hawks, one of his celluloid heroes. But then a series of flops, like the dire At Long Last Love and They All Laughed, saw Bogdanovich move to the small screen for the next couple of decades and even briefly return to his acting roots. His last feature film was 2003’s The Cat’s Meow, a drama set in 1924 and depicting a murder aboard the luxury yacht of William Randolph Hearst.
Now Bogdanovich returns to the screwball genre with the very enjoyable, quirky and farcical She’s Funny That Way, which marks a sort of return to form. This is a zany comedy about the intertwining lives of a number of people involved in a Broadway production who become mixed up with a high class call girl and a couple of obsessive characters. It has a Woody Allen-like feel to it with some sparkling dialogue and a colourful cast of neurotic characters.
Bogdanovich began writing the film in the 90s with his wife Louise Stratten and it was intended as a vehicle for the late John Ritter. It was originally titled Squirrel To The Nuts, after a line in one of the final films from the great Ernst Lubitsch, another of his celluloid heroes. But the title is just one of the many changes made to the material over the years.
When the film opens we meet Hollywood starlet Isabelle Parsons (Imogen Poots) telling a journalist (Illeana Douglas) how she got her big break in the industry. Through a series of extended flashbacks we learn how Izzy was working as a high class call girl for some big cash, which was how she met hot shot director Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson). Albertson had come to New York to direct a new play on Broadway. After sleeping with Izzy he offers her $30,000 if she will give up that way of life and do something else. This is an offer he regularly makes to call girls out of a sense of benevolence and to feel good after the sordid encounter.
Complications quickly ensue when aspiring actress Izzy turns up for auditions for the play, hoping to land the role of the hooker, ironically enough. While Arnold is nonplussed to recognise Izzy and tries to sugest that she is wrong for the role, playwright Joshua (Will Forte) disagrees. Izzy is cast to star opposite Delta (Kathryn Hahn), who just happens to be Arnold’s wife, and Seth (Rhys Ifans), who knows of the relationship between her and Arnold and watches Arnold’s displeasure with unrestrained glee. This is a great set up for some screwball comedy. Further complications arise when Joshua becomes increasingly infatuated with Izzy, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend Jane (Jennifer Aniston), who just happens to be Izzy’s therapist.
Bogdanovich knows his film history and he cleverly includes a number of knowing nods to the classic comedies of yesteryear. There is a nostalgic touch to this farce with lots of romantic entanglements, comic misunderstandings and some witty dialogue. It almost seems like a throwback to an earlier era, as Bogdanovich replicates Hawks’ breezy and pacy style here. It all unfolds with a lot of energy and zany humour, thanks to a committed cast who seem perfectly attuned to the spirit of the material. There are some great farcical setups, and a couple of killer scenes, including a hilarious confrontation in a ritzy restaurant.
The genial and affable Wilson brings his nice guy persona to his role here, and his performance is quite charming. Aniston is excellent and very funny as a psychiatrist who is more highly strung and uptight than her patients, and she steals virtually every scene. Poots delivers a convincing Brooklyn accent and makes the most of her biggest role to date, as the familiar hooker with a heart of gold. Ifans brings some smarmy charm as the egocentric lothario who has a crush on Delta. Austin Pendleton is also hilarious as a judge with an obsession about Izzy. And there are a number of great cameos from the likes of Michael Shannon (as a security guard), Tatum O’Neal, former Bogdanovich regular Cybill Shepherd, Joanna Lumley and even Quentin Tarantino.
She’s Funny That Way does have the bright and breezy feel of vintage Allen, and it will send the majority of filmgoers from the cinema with a smile on their faces.