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Anything Else

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Anything Else

Starring: Woody Allen, Jason Biggs
Director: Woody Allen
Rated: R
RunTime: 96 Minutes
Release Date: September 2003
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Christina Ricci, Jimmy Fallon, Stockard Channing, Danny DeVito, Kenneth Edelson, Carson Grant, Diana Krall, Nicolas Pernisco, Kadee Strickland, Eric Tonken

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Harvey Karten review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Dustin Putman read the review movie reviewvideo review
3.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
4.  Susan Granger read the review movie reviewvideo review

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

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