by Greg Muskewitz
The lamentation that Woody Allen’s current crop of films, considering, that is, if current were to encompass pretty much the last decade, no longer match up to the level of filmmaking he once attained, is merely a cry that won’t bring one back to his heyday.Year after year he delivers a project (some years spreading himself thinner than others), through which each autumn (as its been for the past few seasons), it seems his contracts aren’t lasting as long as they were. Of course, MGM has the largest collection of Allen films (three whole boxsets on DVD), and then Miramax comes next, sticking with him from Bullets over Broadway till Celebrity, and DreamWorks picking up the slack from Small-Time Crooks to this year’s release. (Although Fox Searchlight has taken over for next year’s fall release.) It’s without being pessimistic that I can say I doubt he will make a film again that matches Manhattan or The Purple Rose of Cairo, Annie Hall, or Sleeper. And to that extent, Anything Else may be the closest thing in recent years. Allen takes a backseat in the acting department, choosing instead to support Jason Biggs in the general nebbish role. (Allen to Biggs: “You chose psychoanalysis over real life? Are you learning impaired?”) A struggling comedy writer, Biggs’ love life has taken a hit to the degree that his girlfriend (Christina Ricci) can’t stand to be touched by him. Allen is also a comedy writer (“I have a theory that too much rejection causes cancer”), a sort-of mentor to Biggs, who naturally is full of wacky advice. The set up relatively fits along snugly with both major and minor Allen films, using recycled professions and retread issues, but he’s attempting to use a fresh voice. Whether he’s trying to kowtow to a younger audience to rejuvenate his own image, Allen isn’t concerned in the least how he comes off, and although he’s a bit soft on Biggs’ neuroses, he isn’t concerned, either, how the rest of the characters come off. (Accusations tend to fly freely on Allen’s caricatures of women, with Ricci and Stockard Channing as nearly Sunday comics, though you can’t honestly say that he tries to pass men off any better in his films.) Two of the oddest touches to Anything Else, huge events, really, particularly if you know anything about Woody Allen, are his featured continuous stints behind the wheel of a car — and not just any car — as well as his shocking pro-California stance. (Despite the setting of his last, Hollywood Ending, in it, he was no less cynical about the Golden State as he’s always been.) Of his past few efforts, the comedy here certainly reaches for a more intellectual angle and the blend of silly humor and intelligence make for some of his funniest writing, as well as the direction of it, in probably at least a decade. His employment of cinematographer Darius Khondji (Delicatessen, Stealing Beauty) proves wise, creating a stark contrast in the colors and shape of objects between the interior and exterior images. One of Allen’s bigger mistakes in Anything Else, and not just reducing it to the poor casting choice of Jason Biggs, is the writing choice for him to continually break the fourth wall. And as such, the worst that could be said, is that not all change is good change. With Danny DeVito, Erica Leerhsen, Jimmy Fallon, and Diana Krall.[Absolutely to be seen.]
"As good as it will get."
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originally posted: 05/05/04 18:52:20