Comedy writer Jerry Falk -- the narrating neurotic of Woody Allen's new dysfunctional relationship comedy "Anything Else" -- has a problem asserting himself.
"I can't leave anybody. I'm afraid to sleep alone," says Jerry (Jason Biggs) of his frustratingly sexless infatuation with Amanda (Christina Ricci), his emotionally irrational, tease-and-retreat, live-in girlfriend. He also can't leave his inept agent (a desperate Danny Devito) or his dry, unresponsive shrink (William Hill). He's even turned down sitcom jobs in L.A. rather than sever these trying ties.
Also, Jerry can't say no. To anybody. He acquiesces to Amanda when she invites her arguably even-more-insane mother (Stockard Channing) -- freshly divorced for the seventh time -- to live in their two-room Upper East Side apartment, where she practices for her latest life-fulfilling fantasy of putting together a lounge act. And he gets pushed around by his friend David Dobel (Allen himself), a compulsively paranoid, rambling fellow comic (and schoolteacher by day) who starts off giving Jerry relationship advice and ends up trying to turn the kid into an armed army-surplus survivalist.
Jerry's nervous doormat personality is funny in fits and starts for about three reels of "Anything Else" -- if you give Allen the benefit of the doubt based on his 40-year comedy track record. But the guy's faint-heartedness grows quickly tedious as the movie wears on, especially since Biggs' frequent, bungled on-camera commentary feels overly scripted and wholly unnecessary. His performance, while lacking the manic panache needed to give the plot needed pluck, is adequate enough that any astute viewers can see for themselves what Jerry is feeling.
Thank goodness for Ricci, who is the movie's scene-stealer, embodying with ironic glee the emotional immaturity of a girl who is starved for affection and attention but deeply entrenched behind a flighty fear of commitment. A Brandeis dropout and wannabe actress with an eating disorder and a warped idea of devotion, she flirts with Jerry by saying, "I've had a crush on you since we met. Couldn't you tell from the way I've been ignoring you?" Once he's smitten, and after a fiery whirlwind fling, she moves in, turns frigid, but still flits around the apartment in panties and a paper-thin T-shirt, enticing Jerry with little kisses that lead nowhere.
Recounted mostly in retrospect by our irresolute narrator, "Anything Else" has quotable lines and fleeting moments of sharp wit, but always seems just one minor re-write or one breakout performance away from fulfilling its potential as an sardonic love story that's really about finding the courage to escape one's hang-ups.
But writer-director Allen seems to be getting weary of his own style of cinematic psychoanalysis, and Biggs (best known for the "American Pie" movies) may have the comically compulsive anxiety thing down pat, but he just doesn't have the screen presence to make it compelling -- especially when breaking the fourth wall to talk to the audience. Where's a young Matthew Broderick or John Cusack when you need them?
Run time: 108 mins
In Theaters: Friday 19th September 2003
Box Office USA: $3.1M
Distributed by: DreamWorks SKG
Production compaines: Canal+, DreamWorks SKG, Granada Film Productions, Perdido Prod.
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 40%
Fresh: 53 Rotten: 79
IMDB: 6.4 / 10
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Jason Biggs as Jerry Falk, Christina Ricci as Amanda Chase, Woody Allen as David Dobel, Danny DeVito as Harvey Wexler, Jimmy Fallon as Bob, Fisher Stevens as Manager, Stockard Channing as Paula Chase
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