> Volume 5 > Number 38

Volume 5, Number 38

This Week's Reviews:  Anything Else.

This Week's Omissions:  Cold Creek Manor, The Fighting Temptations, Madame Sat„, Masked and Anonymous, Secondhand Lions, Thirteen, Underworld.

Woody Allen

Jason Biggs
Christina Ricci
Woody Allen
Danny DeVito
Stockard Channing

Release: 19 Sep. 03

Anything Else


I keep going to Woody Allen films because thereís always going to be that promise of something amazing to come out of the experience. He is one of the few filmmakers to let me down fairly regularly without getting ever turning me into a dissenter. Maybe itís my undying respect for films like Manhattan, Sleeper, Annie Hall, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Zelig, and Hannah and Her Sisters; maybe itís the verbal zingers that he can always fit into the most mediocre of scripts (Celebrity, Stardust Memories); maybe itís his persona (most effective in Broadway Danny Rose and Deconstructing Harry, two especially underrated gems); or maybe itís the realization that he averages at least one great film out of every three (with one mediocrity, one good, rarely anything especially bad).

Anything Else, the latest from Allen, breaks the rule of averages, making this his fourth consecutive letdown following Small Time Crooks, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, and Hollywood Ending. They were preceded by an especially strong period that included Mighty Aphrodite, Bullets over Broadway, Everybody Says I Love You, Deconstructing Harry, and Sweet and Lowdown (the only substandard film being the passable Celebrity), a period that may make this latency period acceptable although still disappointing.

Perhaps recognizing that he was the lead in only one of his 1994-99 films (Deconstructing Harry), Allen chooses to take a supporting role in Anything Else, allowing Jason Biggs, a poor-manís neurotic, to play his normal role. The two have many scenes together, which help to underline the inadequacy of Biggs as an Allen proxy.

The Allen character in spirit is Jerry Falk, a stuggling New York comedian trying to make sense of the relationship heís somehow found himself in with the free spirit Amanda (Ricci). They share little in common except a magnetism that is expressed in the dialogue, not in the nonexistent chemistry between the actors.

At the same time, Jerry is receiving career guidance from a failed comedian, David Dobel (Allen), who fancies himself a master at comedy, relationships, women, firearms, contracts, and wit. Although Allen himself has proven amazingly lucid at most of these subjects in the past (firearms being the only exception to the best of my recollection), little of his impressionable genius seems to come into the story, which often bares itself as intellectual romantic comedy, but ultimately lacks the intellect most often found in Allenís films.

This is Woody Allen-light, and, although discouraging, not necessarily damning. He still recognizes a pace to farce that is rarely seen in most modern comedies. Even in his worst films, thereís a professionalism that has been honed through five decades of comedy writing. However, when the film hits its highs -- like when David takes out his rage on some thugsí car -- there is a reminder of what consistency of humor the writer-director used to have. Itís discouraging that the laughs come with the underlying disappointment -- the lack of laughs -- that the rest of the film has.

By my count, thereís still another film for Allen to make before I can write him off as on a complete decline. But, even if he spends the rest of his days making mediocre ones like Anything Else, something tells me Iíll still happily stand in line to see them.

©2003, David Perry,, 19 September 2003

Reviews by:
David Perry