Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4
When authors like Jean-Paul Sartre and Fyodor Dostoevsky
find their names dropped into a contemporary film, you know
that you're dealing either with Ingmar Bergman or Woody Allen.
Both confront a cold, dark universe where life has no meaning,
where people enter into relationships to deflect their thoughts
from death or, in the short run, out of fear of sleeping alone.
Given the way that the bonds between couples tend with time to
fade or wither away, some may wonder why we make the effort
to nurture them, particularly when David Dobel (Woody Allen),
speaking to the young man he mentors, Jerry Falk (Jason
Biggs), declares, "If you dry a styptic pencil carefully after each
shave, it will last longer than any of your relationships."
Bon mots like that are few and far between in the forty-sixth
film that Mr. Allen has had input, whether as director, writer,
actor or voice-over. With dialogue that seems at times
improvised as speakers are regularly interrupted in mid-
sentence as are people in real life, "Anything Else" is on the one
hand more or less like anything else that Woody Allen has
directed. On the other hand, there is originality as the
celebrated writer-director engages the talent of Jason
Biggs whose Al-Gore stiffness has been utilized well in both the
Broadway production of "The Graduate" and in the current
movie and Christina Ricci, considered by some to be hot
(particularly in this work) but in my view is (as Woody might say
in referring to various aspects of life), "Eh."
There's nothing political this time around, nothing that has the
gravitas of "Zelig" or the bleakness of "Interiors," while at the
same time "Anything Else" is no "Annie Hall" or "Manhattan."
However just as Woody Allen used the miscast Kenneth
Branagh as his alter ego in the embarrassing "Celebrity," here
he utilizes Jason Biggs to depict Allen himself when the director
was in his 20s and writing comedy for Sid Caesar. "Anything
Else," then is partly autobiographical, though some
circumstances are fictionalized such as the conclusion in which
the Biggs character is on his way to L.A. because that's where
the big bucks are for comedy writers.
Biggs (that is, the 67-year-old Allen at the age of 25 or so)
performs in the role of Jerry Falk, an upcoming writer who
dashes off scripts for the equally youthful men and women who
use Comedy Corner and other New York locales to get their
start in the biz. When Falk meets Amanda (Christina Ricci)
during a double-date at an Indian restaurant, he is smitten with
her as is she with him. Little does Falk know at the time that
Amanda is childish a coquette who enjoys being chased but
who cools down considerably when living with a guy for a short
time. Jerry has an agent, Harvey (Danny DeVito), with whom he
has an expiring 3-year contract and who gets the whopping sum
of 25% cluing the audience that Jerry is an easy sell, a
doormat, settling into destructive arrangements with both men
and women because of a fear of sleeping alone and an
unwillingness to walk away from a bad situation one that gets
progressively worse when Amanda's fast-talking mother Paula
(Stockard Channing) moves into his small apartment at her
daughter's invitation. He cannot get his psychiatrist (William
Hill) to say more than four words at a time "What do YOU think,"
and listens more readily to his mentor David Dobel (Woody
Allen), whom he meets regularly in Central Park to hear the
older man's paranoid fantasies.
Given Biggs's stiffness and Ricci's flat role as a neurotic
woman playing musical beds, the film comes most to life
whenever Woody Allen holds court, whether his character is
smashing the windows of a car that stole his parking space
(which the timid Jerry could never imagine doing) or schlepping
Jerry to New Jersey to set him up with a rifle for protection.
The Manhattan that forms the background for perhaps most of
Allen's films is lush, with Darius Khondji's photography evoking
a tourist's dream of Central Park, attractions like the Quad
Cinema, and the brownstones in the Village. Jason Biggs has
effectively cut loose from adolescent (although in some cases
funnier) works such as "American Pie," and though Christina
Ricci is no Diane Keaton, "Anything Else" is worth a trip even if
it's not Allen at his best.
Copyright © 2003 Harvey Karten