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Anything Else

  Anything Else
Jimmy Fallon and Jason Biggs contemplate how drunk they'll have to get to enjoy watching "Anything Else."

© 2003, Dreamworks
All Rights Reserved

As a struggling comedy writer living in New York City, Jerry (Jason Biggs, "American Wedding") is trying to sort out his love life. His relationship with his girlfriend, Amanda (Christina Ricci, in way over her capabilities), is falling apart, mostly due to her almost pathological infidelity, but also because of Jerry's own neuroses. Listening to daily advice from a fellow comedy writer (Woody Allen), Jerry struggles to figure out his love life, while also having to deal with his lousy manager (Danny DeVito), whom Jerry needs to fire in order to achieve success.

Though it may appear that way at first, "Anything Else" (IMDb listing) isn't a chance for Woody Allen to reinvent himself with a cast of youngsters. Allen's new picture is a vessel for nostalgia, using his hip cast (which also includes Jimmy Fallon, Erica Leerhsen, and an appearance by Diana Krall) to replicate themes that he's been repeating for nearly 40 years. Under Allen's guidance: the comedy, obnoxious New York intellectualism, and glorious photography can go either right or wrong. "Anything Else" falls into the latter category. While it isn't anything destructive to the master filmmaker's career, it does feature some curious casting and screenwriting choices that might have fans scratching their heads.

I've come to think of "Anything Else" as a "Bugsy Malone" take on "Annie Hall." It has all the Allen ingredients that are expected, but he's placed the drama in the hands of two very young actors, Jason Biggs and Christina Ricci. Biggs and Ricci are acquired tastes as talents, and have yet to be challenged too greatly in their careers thus far. "Else" purports that these two characters deal with analysis, careers and domesticity on a daily basis, but it hardly rings true. Allen is writing for his voice, and coming out of Biggs, the meaning is blurred. John Cusack was a much better match, in terms of an Allen substitute in "Bullets Over Broadway." Biggs just doesn't have the weight as an actor yet to convincingly spit out the philosophical references and endless stammering it requires for Jerry to be consistent. The poor imitation is made worse when Biggs shares screen time with Allen, with whom the words clearly match up. I'm thrilled that Biggs is getting away from the "American Pie" series and trying to mix up the acting choices a little bit, but this experiment failed.

Because the audience is stuck with actors that don't have the mastery needed for Allen's prose, the screenplay's cyclical nature of questioning relationships and romantic entanglements becomes exceptionally tiring. Allen can't score any jokes or heart out of Jerry and Amanda, so the dramatic and comedic value of the script greatly decreases as the film plays out. To be blunt, the film gets pretty annoying. There is hardly a moment in the film where a breath of air occurs, making for the most vocally claustrophobic film Allen has made in a long time.

Outside of some breathtaking New York cinematography by Darius Khondji ("Panic Room"), "Anything Else" has very little to recommend about it. After last year's disappointing "Hollywood Ending," Woody Allen appears to be back in a creative slump and the attempt to bring some youth into his mix doesn't pan out for the director as hoped. He should leave his idiosyncratic world view and impeccable comedic tastes to an actor better suited for the job: himself.

Filmfodder Grade: D+

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