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Movie Review:
Anything Else
By Matt Singer


The title of Anything Else could have several meanings. Within the context of the film it could refer to the protagonistís frustration with his cruel girlfriend and nonexistent lovelife. Or it could be a question, posed from the audience to writer/director Woody Allen, or even the other way around. The 67 year-old Allen has directed more than 35 pictures, and his last three: Small Time Crooks, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, and Hollywood Ending, have not been well received commercial or critically. In that sense, the title almost indicates a bit of disgust, as if viewers have given up on him, but out of a sense of respect, are offering him that last chance that we are pretty sure is going to fail as well. But Anything Else is pretty good, not a classic Allen picture, but a solid one nonetheless, and within the scope of his career offers some interesting complements and contradictions. It says some new things, and returns to old themes as well.

Allen himself plays David Dobel, a school teacher who is only now getting into humor writing. By chance, he meets another aspiring writer, 21 year old Jerry Falk (Jason Biggs), and the two begin a friendship where Falk and Dobel (They always call each other by their last names) meet in Central Park, and Dobel espouses upon his theories of the world. While Allenís pictures have focused on issues of death, philosophy, psychiatry, and sex since almost the beginning, Allen, as I understand it, is now out of psychoanalysis for the first time in decades, and it shows through in his characterís very didactic speeches about the essence of life (Which, it seems, is doing what you want, putting up with others as best you can, and relying only on yourself). Whereas Allenís early characters tended to question life, question existence, now it almost feels as if he has a lifetime of answers and he wants to share them with us.

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Jerry is, as youíd expect in a Woody Allen picture, a neurotic mess. He is incapable of living alone, and so he puts up with a business manager (Danny DeVito) who takes far more money than he deserves, and a girlfriend named Amanda (Christina Ricci) who refuses to have sex with him while she swears over and over that she loves him and adores him and canít live without him. There have been some unlikable women in Allenís films, but I canít think of any more obnoxious than Ricciís Amanda. She is completely self-absorbed, self-medicating, and cruel, and Ricci has no bones about making her as downright bitchy as possible. Frankly, sheís SO completely unredeeming, and without a positive female to serve as counterpoint, that one could make a pretty compelling argument that Anything Else is Allenís most anti-women film yet.

The comedy is hit-or-miss, like a lot of later Allen, but itís more hit than itís been in quite a while. One scene, where Dobel takes out his anger on a parked car, is one of the most hilariously performed sequences heís done. For long time fans, thereís quite a bit borrowed from Annie Hallís direct address to the camera and jumpy storyline and thematically, thereís echoes of Broadway Danny Rose (in the conflict over whether to dump a manager whoís gotten you to the threshold of success), Bullets over Broadway (talented writers forced to work for hacks), and Crimes and Misdemeanors (the morality of violence) just to name a few. Still, there is a lot of stuff here I donít recognize from previous films, like Dobelís disturbing obsession with survival kits and keeping firearms close-by at all times. He obsesses over anti-semitism (as Alvy did in Annie Hall) but here, he also goes further in discussions about DeVitoís character which reveal quite a bit of self-loathing about Jews as well. Typically, even the strangest characters in his movies have a kind edge to them, but Dobel is downright creepy, and for a guy who is always accused of playing the same character over and over, itís nice to see some definite originality.

Anything Else is about fifteen minutes too long, and an edit of that length may have also trimmed out some of the jokes that donít work. It would have also been wiser if Santo Loquastoís production design had been a bit more scummy in Jerryís place, where a struggling writer lives in the coolest, nicest, biggest apartment ever in the history of Manhattan. But itís still a pretty good movie, funny and worthwhile on its own merits, and it though it does contribute in a meaningful way to an already rich filmography. Biggs is a fine lead, and he does a good job of making Jerry a very relatable character. Ricci is at once, beautiful and repulsive. If Allen can continue to create interesting new characters like these that donít feel like anachronisms, then his career is far from over. The answer to the ďAnything else?Ē question will continue to be answered for quite a while.


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