More than a dozen years after his last feature film, 2001’s The Cat’s Meow, Peter Bogdanovich is back in the director’s chair for the comedy She’s Funny That Way, a deliciously daffy, unashamedly old-fashioned confection whose story and style hark back to Hollywood screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s.
Most of its characters would fit in quite well in that era, too, but the setting is more-or-less contemporary New York, where Owen Wilson’s philandering theatre director, Arnold Albertson, is putting on a Broadway play. Up for a part in the show is call girl Izzy, played by British actress Imogen Poots with a Brooklyn honk of a voice and bags of kooky charisma.
Somewhat inconveniently, she has recently enjoyed an assignation with Arnold in a Manhattan hotel, becoming the latest in a series of escorts to whom he has given $30,000 to do something different with their lives. Even more inconveniently, Arnold’s wife, Delta (Kathryn Hahn), is the star of the play, and its leading man is Rhys Ifans’ Welsh roisterer Seth, who still holds a candle for Delta following a long-ago fling in London.
Throw in a ferociously sour therapist (Jennifer Aniston), a love-struck young playwright (Will Forte), a besotted elderly judge (Austin Pendleton) and a dogged veteran gumshoe (George Morforgen); have the characters pop in and out of neighbouring hotel bedrooms and wind up in the same restaurant; and you have the ingredients for a ridiculously farcical imbroglio.
The film doesn’t fizz with quite the same manic energy of the best screwball films – partly because Bogdanovich, having originally conceived the film 15 years earlier with the late John Ritter in the lead, dialled back the slapstick to accommodate Wilson’s more laid-back style when he finally got to make the movie.
As it happens, Wilson’s trademark aw-shucks charm is perfect for the role, and stops his character from seeming a sleazebag, despite his actions. Not everyone will be charmed, however, either by Wilson or by the film. And a critical eye will readily find Bogdanovich’s offering dated and insubstantial. But anyone nostalgic for a bygone style of comedy will find much to enjoy here, not least the film’s very echoes of vintage Hollywood classics.
Bogdanovich doesn’t just evoke the mood of those movies; his script (co-written with ex-wife Louise Stratten) quotes them, too, with Albert’s cockeyed catchphrase ‘squirrels to the nuts’ – lifted from legendary director Ernst Lubitsch’s final film, 1946’s Cluny Brown – becoming a running gag to relish.
Certificate 12A. Runtime 92 mins. Director Peter Bogdanovich.
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