|Though Woody Allen's abilities as a director push him right up there into the list of top working directors today, he hasn't made an impressive film for a few years. Hollywood Ending was rather joke-less and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion was close to a curse to sit through. Since 1995's Mighty Aphrodite, it's safe to say that Woody Allen's been in a creative slump. But with Anything Else he redeems himself somewhat as this films is a definite improvement over his most recent films. For what is possibly the first time in his directorial career, Allen has taken himself out of the role of protagonist and has placed himself in the supporting role category.|
Though his ability to simultaneously direct and act in a feature has never been questioned, the difference in age between himself and his female co-stars (who have traditionally played his love interests) has grown quite large in the last decade. Itís quite an entertaining thought to believe that rather than act opposite women his own age, Allen would rather take himself out of the lead role. While this idea might be far from the truth, the casting of Jason Biggs in the lead role as "Jerry Falk," seems to have been a smart move. Though he is not, in reality, Jewish, Biggs seems to carry the persona off well, as his most famous role is as a Jewish high-schooler in the American Pie series.
Biggs' ability to look simultaneously put-upon and intelligent demonstrates that he possess some ability in front of the camera that's not related to dipping his fingers in an apple pie. And his interaction with co-star Christina Ricci (who plays his love interest, "Amanda") is suitable entertaining, as the two have sufficient sexual chemistry with one another to allow their relationship to be believable. And the degree to which Ricci can portray an annoying girlfriend is surprising. Perhaps it is the tone of her voice, but for much of the film, she sounds as though she his speaking with lungs filled with helium. This may or may not annoy viewers to the point where they cringe when she appears on screen.
Woody Allen is known for his comedy. All of his films have been created with laughter in mind, even if they haven't always inspired laughter. Anything Else inspires more laughter than not in its 108 minutes and for Woody Allen fans, it's mildly inspiring to learn that the director hasn't lost his comedic touch. Though this film will not sit at the top of the heap, it is certainly a step in the right direction towards the "heyday" of Allen's abilities. Allen takes the same formula and applies it to all his films (people have an impediment to love and must overcome something, physical or emotional, to get on with life) and while that technique seems like it would backfire after a few dozen films, Allen has only perfected the technique to a very fine degree. No matter if the jokes in his films are not funny, the formula is still displayed with cinematic excellence.
Anything Else just happens to show that formula in a more humorous light than Allen's most recent films. And some of the funniest lines in the film come not from Ricci or Biggs, or even Allen (though Allen himself does his shtick exceedingly well), but from Stockard Channing, who plays Ricci's mother, "Paula." It's safe to say that her verbal insanity would ensure her commitment to a room with padded walls in any other type of situation other than a Woody Allen film. His brand of movie just lends itself to insane characters and those characters seem to get away with a lot without ending up in jail or in an insane asylum.
Though Anything is certainly not Allen's best work, Biggs and Ricci certainly give it their best shot as the mismatched couple and the film is more enjoyable than not as a light-hearted farce. Featuring heavily the city and people of New York City, the island seems to be an actual character in the film, and as usual, seems to require its own credit on the cast list. Beautifully photographed and filmed with fine production values, New York is its usual "charming" self and Allen's love of the town is evident in every frame of the film. Anything Else gives Woody Allen fans hope that the master of nebbish psychology is not at the end of his career and that still better films are yet to come.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.