Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Starring: Imogene Poots, Owen Wilson, Will Forte, Rhys Ifans, Jennifer Aniston, Kathryn Hahn, Austin Penderton
Written by: Peter Bogdanovich and Louise Stratten
Running Time: 93 mins
Release date: 26th June 2015
Peter Bogdanovich was regarded as one of the finest director of the 70’s. With a string of critically and commercially successful films, ranging from the dramatic (The Last Picture Show, Daisy Miller, Saint Jack) to the comic (What’s Up, Doc?, Paper Moon, Nickelodeon), he was at the top of his game. Then he virtually stopped altogether (save a documentary about Tom Petty). Now he’s back with a screwball comedy, the kind of film he could make with his eyes shut. Alas, this isn’t the triumphant return we all hoped for.
Isabella “Izzy” Patterson is a call girl turned actress, given the opportunity of leaving her career by a generous donation from theatre director, Arnold Albertson. She then turns up, auditioning for Albertson’s new play, which stars his own wife, Delta and British star, Seth Gilbert. Gilbert had seen Izzy leaving Albertson’s room the night he gave her the money, so thinks he has a chance to move in on Delta. Meanwhile, playwright, Joshua Fleet, has formed a crush on Izzy, even though he is dating Izzy’s therapist, Jane.
To say that the plot for this alleged comedy is complex is an understatement. There’s no denying that the cast put their heart and soul into it, desperately trying to make it work. Yet the main problem is the script. For this farce to work, the lines have to be sharp and witty, while the increasingly complicated connections with all the characters have to be properly defined. Yet as each calamity occurs, you become more and more tired of listening to these people getting louder and louder, until you just don’t care anymore.
It’s a film that makes the big mistake of replacing coincidences with comedy, thus leaving us po-faced. You want to like this film because of who is behind the camera and who is in front of the cast. The cast all bring something to the project. Yet you can’t like the film if it isn’t funny. Bogdanovich also fails by trying to make a Woody Allen comedy while at the same time reinventing one of his finest, What’s Up, Doc? Yet he’s no Allen and this is no Doc.
The cast is solid enough. Imogene Poots, who is a likeable soul, does have the oddest accent in this film (the part was originally slated for Olivia Wilde but due to conflicting schedules). As sassy Izzy, she is fine. Owen Wilson gives us another Owen Wilson performance, while Will Forte as Joshua, tends to disappear into the background.
The film does have three performances that make it watchable. Rhys Ifan is devilishly slimy as Seth, while Kathryn Hahn also steals the film as the put-up wife, Delta. Yet she is out stripped by a full-on Jennifer Aniston as the “couldn’t-give-a-damn” therapist. who would have thought that Jennifer Aniston was one of the reasons for keeping with a film?
She’s Funny That Way could have been Bogdanovich’s triumphant return to the screen and yet I can’t help feeling that maybe he should have stayed away. It’s not a total disaster but it’s not even close to his finest. It feels contrived and old-fashioned and thus sit uncomfortably in a world where comedies have moved on. It’s a shame that he hasn’t.