Anything Else

By Mark Cappuccio

A new Woody Allen film used to be a thing to be celebrated, you looked forward to it every year like Christmas and you knew it would be intelligent, funny and a joy to watch. But recently his films haven't done as well as before and have not been as widely regarded as his early work, so can this latest offering change things or is he descending finally into old age and boring filmmaking?

No, I say, this new film is a hoot from start to finish. It tells the story of up-and-coming comedian Jerry Falk (Jason American Pie Biggs) who is taken under the wing of older established comedian David Dobel (Woody Allen). Also present are needy agent Harvey (Danny Devito) and Jerry's whingeing, unfaithful girlfriend Amanda (Christina Ricci). That's about it really, but as you may remember vintage Allen needed very little plot as his films are about the writing and the quality of his actors' performances, and this is definitely the case here.

Almost shedding his pie persona, Biggs is great as Jerry, a kind of young Allen clone, all nervousness and insecurities; Allen wisely chooses to sideline himself and play his own age, and has managed to successfully pass his mantle to a younger actor who takes the work and runs with it. Woody as Dobel, on the other hand, is all pent up rage and cynicism, raging against the world and all its horrors, ranging from his Jewishness, people stealing his parking spaces and, inevitably, women. The film is set not long after 9/11 and this casts a shadow over proceedings which may have added to Allen's new-found unsettlement in New York, and maybe contributed to him shooting his current film project in London – a first for the sworn Manhattanite. Biggs delivers many of Allen's own trademark monologues to camera and he does this with some panache, but we know deep down he is not really Allen's equal and it does make you yearn for the Woody of old.

But it is the other characters that help make this film so enjoyable, Ricci is completely selfish and evil as Amanda, who right from the start you just want to punch for the things she puts Jerry through. She withholds sex from him as she thinks that she is allergic to it, but is happily sleeping with someone behind his back, she whines at him constantly and even moves her own mother into his apartment, upsetting his writing habits and causing more rows between them. Mother is played brilliantly by the underrated Stockard Channing; she lights up the screen and steals the scenes she is in with her drunken behaviour and bad language. Devito is suitably dependable as ever as neurotic agent Harvey, worried that he will lose his only client as Jerry becomes more successful.

It's not Allen's best, I will admit, but it is a long way ahead of the recent Curse of the Jade Scorpion and even Woody Allen's average is years in front of any comedy other established 'brands' like the Farrelly brothers can turn out. It has some great comic moments in it: just watch Allen flip out and smash a car to pieces and then worry about it after; it can also be seen in his advice to Jerry that's definitely warped, but yet makes sense if you think about it. Treat yourself this summer to an intelligent comedy that does not insult you or fall back on dick and fart jokes to get a laugh. This is adult writing that works well and proves allen still has what it takes to succeed. a little diamond of a film.
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