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USA 2014
Directed by
Peter Bogdanovich
93 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

She's Funny That Way

Synopsis: As married Broadway director (Owen Wilson) prepares his latest production his star (Rhys Ifans) makes a play for his wife (Kathryn Hahn) and his taste for call-girls threatens to derail the project.

Had Woody Allen written and directed this film it would have been greeted with the usual “it-may-not-be-his-best-but…” response that has been applied to virtually every one of that director’s films for the past thirty years.  Presumably because it was written (with Louise Stratten, the director’s ex-wife) and directed  by Peter Bogdanovich it has been comprehensively panned Stateside. But don’t be deterred, She's Funny That Way, a film that is informed by both a love of 30s Hollywood  screen comedies and self-deprecating Jewish humour, is well worthy of Allen the comedy journeyman and, if that passes muster with you, your attention.

Imogen Poots plays rising screen star Isabella “Izzy” Patterson who is being interviewed by a Hollywood reporter, Judy (Illeana Douglas). The film we see is the story she relates of her transformation from call-girl to starlet thanks to the generosity of one of her clients, married theatre director Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson) who pays her $30,000 to stop being a hooker and to devote herself to her aspiration to be an actress.  Hey-ho but whaddya know, the first role she auditions for is that of a call-girl in a play that is to be directed by Albert which will star Albert’s wife, Delta (Kathryn Hahn).  And so begins a round of contretemps which if not exactly laugh-out-loud funny should have you consistently smiling.

Izzy’s very Allenish opening voice-over as she reflects that  “like most people today, Judy was a cynic and was offended by the slightest hint of fantasy”  establishes  Bogdanovich’s agenda which is to meld modern mores with the glamorous comedy of errors that typified the golden years of Hollywood screen comedies.  Thus multiple storylines are woven together as a collection of well-heeled characters change partners with a cheery insouciance that could only happen on the big screens of yesteryear, a reference point which is directly acknowledged in the film’s closing coda.

Sometime this mixture is rather awkward, in particular the key device of Albert giving significant wads of money to rescue hookers from their dead-end trade. For a start, theatre directors may have been big earners on Broadway in the heyday 1930s but would seem hardly so today and then how Albert so blithely justifies serially deceiving his wife is never explained (nor for that matter is the meaning of the film's title apparent).

Still, the aim of the game is to have fun and in that respect the film happily rides over such considerations.  Thus Rhys Ifans is hardly someone one would think of as a matinee idol but his attempts to seduce Albert’s wife are an ongoing delight.  Equally Jennifer Aniston is like no psychologist you would ever encounter but her hyper-neurotic character is a hoot. God knows why English actress Poots was cast as a Brooklyn scrubber but she brings an atypical charm (recalling Mira Sorvino’s turn in Allen’s Mighty Aphrodite) to the role.  And Owen Wilson is, as always, an affable presence, the still centre of a storm of farcical conflict.

If you like old school comedy, She’s Funny That Way should do the trick.

FYI: The witticism about feeding squirrels to nuts rather than vice versa was lifted by Bogdanovich unacknowledged from Ernst Lubitsch's 1946 comedy Cluny Brown.  




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