What’s up, doc? Who takes a large and capable (if disappointingly white-bread) cast—Owen Wilson, Imogen Poots, Will Forte, Kathryn Hahn, Jennifer Aniston, Rhys Ifans, Austin Pendleton, Illeana Douglas, Michael Shannon, Cybill Shepherd, Richard Lewis, Debi Mazar, Joanna Lumley, Lucy Punch, Tatum O’Neal, Colleen Camp, and yes, even Quentin Tarantino—and gives them nothing to work with?
Peter Bogdanovich, that’s who.
The principal proponent of the latter-day screwball comedy, Bogdanovich has screwed this one up royally, giving us few classic screwball situations and even fewer classic screwball lines (where’s the funny in She’s Funny That Way?). I counted a grand total of four screwballers, delivered by Aniston (on therapy etiquette, and when brandishing a knife), Wilson (the elevator crack), and a criminally underutilized Shannon (his one brief scene). Three out of four of these you’ll already have seen in the trailer.
Despite all that, this script-less entity, credited to the director and his ex (Louise Stratten), does actually produce a handful of decent performances. The aforementioned Aniston is queenly in her bitchiness and TV staple Hahn (Transparent, Parks and Recreation, Happyish) also impresses as Wilson’s wife and leading lady (he’s a theater director). Best of the bunch, though, is Poots, who delivers her straight-outta-Brooklyn aspiring actress with delightful sass and conviction (her native Hammersmith accent slips out only once, in a scene in which she and Forte admire one of those famed unicorn tapestries).
Poots sticks it—and glows—as Izzy Patterson, a call girl with the oddly uncomfortable moniker of Glowstick who, ahem, escorts Wilson’s Arnold Albertson when he comes to town—this time he’s here to direct a Broadway play. Wilson appears to be stuck in Midnight in Paris mode throughout. It makes sense, given how much She’s Funny That Way mimics a Woody Allen farce, but it doesn’t make his neuroses any more palatable.
Via the subtle intricacies of the plot (yeah, right), Izzy winds up being cast in Arnold’s stage production of A Greek Evening and things quickly get triangular, with Forte’s sappy playwright vying for her ample attentions. Creating additional noises off are Hahn and Ifans, whose characters had a fling back when they co-starred on the London stage.
She’s Funny That Way isn’t unwatchable by any means. It’s just not funny. That—or any other—way.
(c) 2016 David N. Butterworth