Wacky enough to make us smile but never laugh out loud, this screwball comedy harks back to those nutty 1970s farces Woody Allen used to make about a group of neurotic urbanites. Actually, filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich used to make those kinds of movies too (1972's What's Up Doc is a classic). But he gives this film an oddly muted tone and uneven cast, which leaves it enjoyably silly even though it's never very funny.
It's set in a version of Manhattan where everyone sees the same shrink, eats in the same restaurant and stays at the same hotel, conveniently. Isabella (Imogen Poots) is working as a hooker, and her next john is Arnold (Owen Wilson), who offers her $30,000 if she gives up being a call girl after tonight and pursues her dream of becoming an actress. Then when she goes for her first Broadway audition, she's shocked to discover that Arnold is the director, and her costars would be his wife Delta (Kathryn Hahn) and leery actor Seth (Rhys Ifans), who knows what she used to do for a living. Another ex-client (Austin Pendleton) is obsessing because Isabella has vanished, so he visits the tetchy therapist Jane (Jennifer Aniston), who not only happens to also be counselling Isabella but is dating the playwright Joshua (Will Forte) who fell for Isabella at her audition.
The entanglement between these seven characters is recounted in flashback as Isabella is interviewed by a jaded Hollywood reporter (Illeana Douglas), so the film has a rather episodic structure as it traces each slapstick encounter between these people. With the plot so ludicrously convoluted, it's up to the actors keep us entertained, and they're a mixed bag. Aniston is surprisingly funny as the short-tempered psychologist who really should be in therapy herself, and Hahn gets the balance just right between the manic emotion and the darker comedy. Ifans has his moments as well, creeping around the corners of most scenes. But Poots never quite convinces in the focal role, while Wilson merely recycles his usual hapless routine and Forte gets lost in the shuffle as the token nice guy.
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This intriguing drama takes on some darkly resonant themes with such an oddly bright and cheerful tone that it forces the audience to pay attention. As it continues, the terrific Rosamund Pike uses conflicting emotions to explore the aftermath of a horrific assault. But while there's growing suspense in the plot, the bigger tension comes from the viewers themselves as they wonder whether it's going to unravel into melodramatic rubbish.
Pike plays Miranda, a cleanliness-obsessed nurse with ambition to get a better job and move to a bigger house, partly to stop her single dad (Nick Nolte) from worrying about her. Then a nurse colleague (Rumer Willis) sets her up on a blind date. William (Shiloh Fernandez) is flirty and sexy, but after he brutally attacks her he goes to prison, leaving Miranda to put her life back together. Surprisingly, she takes a proactive approach that includes contacting William and trying to achieve some sort of reconciliation. Miranda's father is horrified by this, especially when William is released on parole and turns up to help her fix up her house.
This insinuating set-up keeps the audience guessing whether this is a complex look at how people wrestle with the fall-out from a violent rape, or perhaps either Miranda or William are up to something more nefarious. So whether it's sparking hope or dread, it's relatively gripping. And Pike is superb as a quirky woman who continually faces her fears. This includes both connecting with William and trying to befriend her dad's scary dog Benny. "Hating him only hurts me," she says pointedly. Nolte is reliably solid as her wheezy, concerned dad. And Fernandez is utterly magnetic as the mercurial William. All of the characters are defined by rather simplistic filmmaking shorthand, but the actors give them plenty of weight.
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