Marital troubles, a girlfriend with a inferiority complex, a teacher comparing the Holocaust to dating, a Billie Holiday soundtrack and a love affair with the City — capitol ‘C’ — itself all add up to one thing: another Woody Allen movie. By now the formula is a familiar one, yet he keeps churning out more of them. The twist to be found in his latest film, “Anything Else,” is that Allen’s stilted dialogue is now in the mouths of young Hollywood stars. Mr. Allen’s usual tired rants surface: “Why is life so up in the air?”and “Why doesn’t she love me?” among others, but the real question ultimately is: when will New York City finally get fed up with Woody Allen and dump him?
Let me set the opening scene: Central Park, beautiful sunlight, green leaves — and a bench with a bedraggled Woody Allen sitting on it, feet dangling, like a ventriloquist dummy that has been left out in the rain. Jerry Falk (Jason Biggs), the protagonist, is next to him, eagerly listening to his tired old jokes. During this tirade, Jerry begins to address the camera directly, a very bad technique for film unless it is pulled off with finesse (as in “Election”). Here it comes across as clunky, as if Allen couldn’t figure out a less jarring way to communicate exposition.
The plot progresses predictably. Jerry is dating a nice girl with no problems. Enter the completely insane, hyper-intellectual Amanda. Immediately he dumps the nice girl and picks up the naughty one because, as he explains to Amanda later, “There was something compelling about your apathy.” Amanda predictably proves to be quite a handful and Allen’s character David, a school teacher/comedian (not like it matters, he plays himself in every movie), repeatedly shows up to lecture Jerry on his problems with Amanda, never mind that David can’t even solve his own problems. Jerry also sees a psychiatrist for regular advice, lying on the Freudian-style couch (again, largely a thing of the past), talking at the analyst who never responds. And of course Jerry and Amanda’s relationship has to be tested by Amanda’s alcoholic, pill-popping mother (Stockard Channing looking and acting more and more like a snapping turtle) moving in.
But wait, it gets worse. Jerry speaks as if he is a 60-year-old transported out of the last century, and I mean the earlier half, folks. Early in the film, Jerry waits at a restaurant for his chronically late girlfriend Amanda (Christina Ricci) to arrive and when she does, pulls her from the cab and angrily exclaims, “It’s dinner hour you know!” Ricci’s Amanda is no less archaic, responding to Jerry later with the Dickensian “What a question!” In fact, Allen is so out of touch there is not an expletive in the entire movie! Possibly Allen was trying to make some sort of comment about the young, intellectual bourgeois of New York, but his affected script instead gives us the Children of the Corn all grown up. Clearly, Allen has lost complete touch with the dialogue of today’s 20-somethings, the script grating against the modern setting he is trying to establish.
Ricci gives an inspired performance in an attempt to liven things up. But Amanda is never real no matter how well she is played; the creaky dialogue and theatrical scenarios put up too much of a barrier. Biggs’ acting style proves to be similar to Allen’s: he plays himself in every movie. So no surprises from him. The veteran actors do a better job with their parts, as the dialogue sounds a little more believable in the mouths of adults, but they seem to be almost stage acting. The film never takes on the realism and energy appropriate for cinema, but it comes close enough to frustrate with its failure.
While most of the time the film is just plain boring, it even manages to come off as annoying at times. At one point Amanda tells Jerry not to be “so middle class.” At another point, a nice girl at a party is ignored by Jerry because she doesn’t know the meaning of the word “neoteric.” I expected some criticism of this elitism to be given but I waited in vain.
It seems Allen has become something of an intellectual fascist.
In a telling lecture near the beginning, Allen exclaims in anger at Biggs, “You chose psychoanalysis over life?” Well, at the screening I attended a young woman behind me received a cell phone call in the middle of the film and proceeded to have a twenty minute conversation without leaving the theater. She chose life over “Anything Else.” Never has such a choice been so entirely free of angst.