January 16, 2004 -- “Anything Else” is one of writer-director-actor Woody Allen's weaker films in recent years. It is a lackluster romantic comedy in which Allen plays against type as a somewhat crazed, sometimes violent, paranoid gun nut. He is an adviser to a younger man, who is also Woody's alter ego. So you sort of get two Woody Allens for the price of one.
Woody plays David Dobel, a high school teacher who also writes comedy. He is a friend to another comedy writer, Jerry Falk (played by Jason Biggs of the “American Pie” movies.) Falk is making a living writing comedy, but is seriously messed up. He is saddled by high commission contract with an inept agent, Harvey (played by Danny DeVito of “War of the Roses”). He is also saddled with a lousy relationship with a flaky girlfriend, Amanda (played by Christina Ricci of “The Opposite of Sex”), and a crummy psychiatrist. Dobel keeps telling Falk he needs to shed these toxic relationships and start over. He eventually talks Falk into going to the west coast with him to work in television comedy, but Falk is having trouble letting go of his old life in New York.
Falk is the kind of guy who is easily pushed around. Amanda treats him like dirt and he takes it. Amanda's mother moves in with him and her in their tiny apartment, and brings her piano along. He puts up with her, and the piano, too. His psychiatrist offers him no advice at all and he puts up with that, as well. His agent is worthless, but Falk sticks with him anyway. He should leave New York and head to California, but he will probably stick around if the neurotic Amanda gives him just one reason to stay. Falk occasionally looks right into the camera to tell us what he is really thinking.
The film explores the same themes of sexual politics among neurotic New York intellectuals that Woody has been doing for over 30 years. Biggs plays the kind of timid, nervous, insecure, talky character that Allen usually plays. The trouble is, Biggs is not nearly as good at this kind of role as Allen. For that matter, Allen is not very convincing as a gun-toting survivalist, either. Woody has tried this sort of thing before. In “Bullets Over Broadway,” one of his better films, John Cusack played the part of the Woody Allen-type character. Cusack was very good in the role, but then he is a very good actor and this is the kind of role he excels in. In addition to Biggs not being convincing in the role, the material is not very funny and the pacing is too slow. The supporing actors, however, are pretty good, including DeVito, Ricci and Stockard Channing (“Six Degrees of Separation”) as Amanda's flaky mother. DeVito has a very funny scene when Falk tells him his contract will not be renewed. There are also some funny one-liners in the movie, like “I feel like committing suicide, but I've got so many problems, that wouldn't solve them all,” or “You don’t want your life to end up as black-and-white newsreel footage scored by a cello in a minor key,” or “Look at her body language, all verbs.” This film rates a C.
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