“She’s Funny That Way,” Peter Bogdanovich’s first theatrical film in twenty-four years is a screwball comedy that plays like Woody Allen’s interpretation of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” It’s filled with Allen’s farcical mainstays like therapy sessions, young women, obsessed old men, show biz in jokes and even a character described as an ”existential cab driver.” Trouble is, Allen had nothing to do with the script. She may be funny that way, but she’s not funny this way.
Imogen Poots is Izzy Beatty, a Broadway star sitting down for a no-holds barred interview. She tells of reinventing herself, from “muse” to older men—ie: high priced call girl—to star by way of a chance meeting—ie: paid encounter—with married Broadway director Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson). Arnold is prepping his next show, a new play called A Grecian Evening, by playwright (Will Forte) Joshua Fleet. The show is set to star Arnold’s wife Delta (Kathryn Hahn) and movie star Seth Gilbert (Rhys Ifans) as a couple who, in real life, had a fling years before while co-starring in London’s West End. Add to that cast of characters Fleet’s girlfriend, the edgy Dr. Jane (Jennifer Aniston), a psychologist who describes her patients as “crazy old loons,” then mix-and-match romantic allegiances and you have a celebration—but not celebratory story—of urban neurosis.
The idea of Bogdanovich returning to the big screen with a fleet-footed comedy is a welcome one. He’s tread similar ground before in films like “What’s Up, Doc” and “Noises Off” with interesting results which makes the flatness of “She’s Funny That Way” all the more puzzling.
What should be a soaring story of romantic intrigue and slamming doors is, instead, a mannered movie that feels like second rate Woody Allen. Of the sprawling cast only a handful are given anything to do. Why cast the hilarious Kathryn Hahn and not give her laugh lines? Why cast Cybill Shepherd and give her what can only be described as half-a-cameo? Those who eat up the majority of the screen time try hard to bring the material to life but Poots, normally an engaging performer, is hampered by a grating Noo Yawk accent that makes Fran Drescher sound refined and overwritten interview scenes which look and sound like acting school monologues.
Wilson fares better but Ifans, as a teen heartthrob, is poorly cast. He pulls off the degenerate Lothario schtick well enough but doesn’t pass muster as a superhero movie star.
What could have been a wistful “if you don’t let go of your past it will strangle your future” look at personal reinvention, or an Allenesque farce, or both, turns out to be neither. Despite a laugh or two it falls flat and works mostly as a cameo parade for faces like Richard Lewis, Joanna Lumley and Michael Shannon without ever working up a real head of steam.
At one point in “She’s Funny That Way” Arnold says, “We have a tornado coming up in the elevator and it is about to touch down.” Trouble is, it never touches down.