Director Woody Allen
Starring Jason Biggs, Christina Ricci, Stockard Channing, Danny De Vito
This is Woody Allen's 33rd film in 38 years and the prevailing sentiment among even his most hardcore followers must be that the law of diminishing returns has taken over. Despite the Woodman's astonishingly prolific one-film-per-year work-rate, his last real quality effort was a decade ago (Bullets Over Broadway). The chief problem is his recent films look and feel rushed, with narratives, characters and dialogue that should have cooked a little longer in Allen's fertile comic brain.
Anything Else is no exception, feeling like it's been assembled from a Woody Allen greatest-hits kit, a grab-bag of trademark moments and strands lifted from earlier, better films. Mostly Annie Hall, as it happens: the non-linear story; the neurotic girlfriend who goes off sex; the protagonist addressing the audience and so on. A few scenes even play as in-jokes, including one where Ricci chides Biggs for refusing to try cocaine.
Once the slightly irritating familiarity passes, however, Anything Else does warm up nicely. Allen's gag-writing ability is still intact and there's plenty of funny business to enjoy here. Danny DeVito as Jerry's useless business manager and Stockard Channing as Amanda's louche, apartment-crashing mum both bring a comic jolt to their brief appearances, while Allen's moaning sidekick Dave is a cynical yet strangely inimitable creation. And the leads? Well, Ricci smoulders as the chatty neurotic and Biggs, though struggling initially as he wriggles into Woody's on-screen persona, eventually settles into the role, holding his own in some amusing sequences with his director.
Yes, the laughs are more sporadic than in the past and Allen's endless one-liners about the futility of life have become predictable. But Anything Else still confirms one of cinema's enduring truths: even a half-formed Woody Allen movie still beats most studio-generated rom-coms.
Woody's youth-skewed rom-com isn't a patch on his earlier classics but features enjoyable performances and some boisterous high points.