Anything Else Movie Review
The big schlemiel at the heart of the movie is actually not Allen, it's Biggs, who plays Jerry Falk, a young comedy writer with a chronic inability to say no to anybody: not his useless shrink or his clinging, laughable manager (Danny DeVito), and especially not his neurotic (on a good day) girlfriend, Amanda (Ricci). Falk's best friend is another comedy writer, David Dobel (Allen), who has all the usual Allen characteristics, but seems to have been taking steroids for his paranoia and misanthropy.
Falk flutters about in the middle of the picture, juggling the competing demands of all the people in his life whom he's trying to keep happy, and failing miserably when it comes to Amanda. A chain-smoking, binge-eating, pill-popping, struggling actress, Amanda is always late, eats everything in the house, is sexually attracted by most men except Falk, and asks her drunk mother (Stockard Channing) to move into their cramped one bedroom. All in all, she's a fidgety nervebomb that would send most men fleeing at top speed, screaming.
At first, their relationship is perilously unentertaining and simply wretched to behold. Also starting off sketchy is the film's framing device: Falk's long walks and talks in Central Park with his erstwhile mentor Dobel, who expounds on everything from the wisdom of Henny Youngman to masturbation to the existential purposelessness of life and the Holocaust. These bits are generally not as meaningful as they should be, and to drive a dull point home even harder, Falk describes them in painfully obvious monologues to the audience. Allen has always had a light touch with humor, but with few exceptions (Crimes and Misdemeanors, maybe) his approach to more serious subject matter is ham-fisted at best.
Fortunately, Allen refuses to take himself too seriously (a scene in which Dobel attacks a car with a tire iron is hilarious in its improbability, as is another where he tries to move a piano), and for the most part he hands over the film to his young leads, who quickly lead the film into a steady groove. Biggs takes some getting used to, but Ricci holds the screen every second she's on it and doesn't waste a single word. Ricci's convincingly played the conniving witch before (The Opposite of Sex), but she's so well-suited to play Amanda that it's just plain creepy. No matter how horribly Amanda treats Falk, there's a pleading in Ricci's wide, anime eyes, and the promise of love in her crooked smile, that keeps the character from seeming as hateful as she really is. (As Dobel tells Falk: "The Pentagon should use her hormones for chemical warfare," and Dobel should know, as he's the other consummate liar and neurotic in Falk's life.)
Anything Else is a surprisingly relaxed film, and it's all the better for it. Channing and DeVito ably fill their supporting roles, which they are actually given the time to do since for once Allen isn't cramming the screen with marquee stars doing some pedigree slumming (unless Jimmy Fallon showing up for a couple minutes to play Amanda's previous boyfriend counts).
Will there be a better romantic comedy this year? Probably, but there won't be one that takes so many chances and is so enjoyably weird.
Up next: The scene with Biggs and a knish.