Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Starring: Imogen Poots, Owen Wilson, Kathryn Hahn, Rhys Ifans, Will Forte, Jennifer Aniston, Austin Pendleton
She’s Funny That Way is the first feature film in 13 years from celebrated 1970s auteur Peter Bogdanovich. Bogdanovich is known for his love of classical Hollywood cinema, and as he did with his beloved 1972 comedy What’s Up Doc?, here he channels the screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s – anarchic and irreverent social satires like The Lady Eve, It Happened One Night, Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday and The Philadelphia Story. He draws on filmmakers like Ernst Lubitsch, Preston Sturges and Frank Capra with more than a little bit of Bogdanovich contemporary Woody Allen in creating this outrageous farce.
Call girl Izzy Finkelstein (Imogen Poots) has her life changed forever when one a client offers her $30,000 to give up her current line of work and pursue her dream. Izzy’s dream is to be an actress, and the very next day her agent sends her along to a Broadway audition for celebrated director Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson). What Izzy doesn’t know until she gets on stage is that Arnold Albertson is the philanthropic john from the night before. She is so good that Arnold, despite his discomfort, has no choice but to give her the part. Now this is where things get a bit tricky. The two leads in the play are played by Delta Simmons (Kathryn Hahn), Arnold’s wife, and the lothario Seth Gilbert (Rhys Ifans), who has long held a flame for Delta and also happened to be a witness to Arnold and Izzy’s hotel rendezvous. The play’s writer, Josh Fleet (Will Forte), is instantly taken with Izzy despite being married. Unbeknownst to him, his wife, Dr Jane Claremont (Jennifer Aniston), happens to be Izzy’s therapist. With all of these connections and more, it is only a matter of time before things start to unravel.
As you have no doubt gathered, the contrived plot is very dependent on coincidence – all of these characters with all of these connections showing up at the same place at the same time. While coincidence can be the lazy screenwriter’s get-out-of-jail-free card, in a farce like this the escalating chaos that arises from the layering of coincidence on coincidence on coincidence is where the humour comes from. This doesn’t make for a believable story, but it makes for a fun one.
She’s Funny That Way itself acknowledges the doubtful believability of its narrative, employing a framing device in which a now famous Isabella Patterson (Izzy Finkelstein is hardly an appropriate name for a Hollywood starlet) tells a cynical reporter the story of how she was discovered. Through connecting her story with the fabricated myths of studio Hollywood stars of yesteryear, this interview establishes Izzy’s tall tale as a piece of fantasy, even pointing out where elements of it have been lifted from classic films. Arnold’s pick up line of choice – “In Central Park, some people like to feed nuts to the squirrels. But if it makes you happy to feed squirrels to the nuts, who am I to say nuts to the squirrels” – comes directly from Ernst Lubitsch’s 1946 comedy Cluny Brown.
With so many interconnected parts, Peter Bogdanovich has managed to assemble a deep and talented cast. Comedy mainstays Owen Wilson and Rhys Ifans get some laughs, but the real winners are Kathryn Hahn and Jennifer Aniston. Hahn manages to make Delta the most believable human being in the film while still being hilarious, and Aniston is a hoot as the world’s most blunt and least professional therapist. The draw of working with Peter Bogdanovich has allowed the cast to be fleshed out with familiar faces in small roles and cameos including the likes of Cybill Shepherd, Ricard Lewis, Lucy Punch, Tatum O’Neal, Michael Shannon and Joanna Lumley.
She’s Funny That Way was executive produced by Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, two big names in the American Indie comedy scene whose attachment no doubt played an important role in getting this film made. It feels like a movie that Bogdanovich wanted to make rather than one he needed to make, which is not meant as a slight on the film, just as an observation that it so clearly taps into his love of classical Hollywood without being a noteworthy contribution to his body of work. She’s Funny That Way may not be fresh or original but it is charming to revisit a style of film comedy we just don’t see anymore.
Review by Duncan McLean
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