The advertising for the new Woody Allen film Anything Else have played up the film’s two leads, young actors Jason Biggs and Christina Ricci, while downplaying Allen’s involvement to the point of virtually not admitting it’s a Woody Allen film at all. While it may just be a marketing move to sell the film to a younger demographic based on its young leads versus its older writer/director, it is also ironically apropos as the film itself doesn’t really play to any of the strengths Allen is capable of.
Jerry Falk (Jason Biggs) is struggling; both in his professional life as a comedy writer and in his personal life with live in girlfriend Amanda (Christina Ricci). While their relationship started off as vary passionate, it has since cooled. Meanwhile, his work on a novel has stalled as well. The relationship advice that Jerry gets from his friend and fellow writer David Dobel (Woody Allen) is questionable at best. David is so full of neuroses and paranoia that you would suspect he would be Allen himself today if it weren’t for all of his years of therapy. To misquote an old saying, “There but for the grace of Freud go I.” As Jerry struggles to get Amanda to admit that there may be something wrong with their relationship, things become complicated when Amanda’s mother Paula (Stockard Channing) moves into their apartment.
As the main character, Biggs takes the center stage role normally reserved for Allen himself. He struggles to make the role his own however as it feels like it was written for Allen. Biggs does avoid the mistake Kenneth Branagh made in Allen’s Celebrity (1998) and refrains from attempting to do a poor Woody Allen impersonation.
Ricci fills out the lead role traditionally held by the likes of Diane Keaton or Mia Farrow. While Ricci may be getting to close to their level acting-wise, she is not given material anywhere near as good as her predecessors. Her Amanda basically exists as something for Biggs’ Jerry to react to. Allen never takes any time to delve into her character to reveal what makes her tick. It could be argued that the movie is told from Jerry’s point of view and that he never figures out what makes her tick. If that were the case though, then beyond a few common interests, the movie never really shows us why Jerry is so attracted to her in the first place.
The rest of the performances range across the board. Danny DeVito is embarrassingly over the top as Jerry’s dimwitted agent. Allen manages to keep his own character from veering off into a cartoonish performance. Channing is great, though criminally underused, as Amanda’s mother.
If anything, Anything Else is a disappointment. As a writer, Allen has written great smart comedies (Sleeper (1973), Love and Death (1975)) and great character pieces (Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979)). Unfortunately, there’s not much evidence of Allen’s talent for either on display here. The characters are thinly drawn and seem to exist only to connect together the loose collection of incidents that make up the plot. Instead of being a Woody Allen film, Anything Else feels more like a film student’s pale attempt at imitation. While it’s disheartening to see Allen strike out with a film like this, fans of his work can take comfort in the fact that he’s such a workaholic he’ll probably have a new film out in a year’s time. Here’s hoping it’s better.