Thursday 6 July 2017

Movie Review: She's Funny That Way (2014)

An old fashioned screwball comedy, She's Funny That Way registers some laughs in an unlikely coincidence-filled setting with plenty of references to other classic movies.

Rising movie star Isabella "Izzy" Patterson (Imogen Poots) is recounting the story of her acting breakthrough to an interviewer. While working as call girl "Glo Stick" she spends one night with theatre director Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson), who unexpectedly gifts her $30,000 to quit prostitution and chase her acting dream. Izzy heeds his advice and shows up to a Broadway audition, unaware that Albertson is the director and the show stars his wife Delta (Kathryn Hahn) and British actor Seth Gilbert (Rhys Ifans). To make matters worse, Seth had spotted Izzy and Arnold on their night together. The playwright Joshua Fleet (Will Forte) immediately takes a liking to Isabella.

Meanwhile, Isabelle is seeing neurotic therapist Jane Claremont (Jennifer Aniston), who is also Joshua's girlfriend. Jane's other clients include Judge Pendergast (Austin Pendleton) who is obsessed with Izzy, and who has hired private detective Harold Fleet (George Morfogen), Joshua's father, to track Izzy's every move. Delta starts to suspect that Arnold has had a series of affairs with call girls, handing out $30,000 to each. The characters bump into each other in a series of compromising situations, resulting in Isabella launching her acting career while Arnold has a lot of explaining to do.

Directed by Peter Bogdanovich who also co-wrote the film with his ex-wife Louise Stratten, She's Funny That Way deploys the tried and tested formula of multiple threads connecting all the characters and wild coincidences resulting in compromising encounters at the worst possible time. As comedies go this is old territory, and She's Funny That Way has a strong whiff of good but recycled Woody Allen without the angst, with salutes to Billy Wilder and Blake Edwards. Bogdanovich provides enough of a polish to make his film interesting, and utilizes the cast to good effect.

Jennifer Aniston as a narcissistic therapist registers the most laughs, while Wilson, Poots (who overdoes her Brooklyn accent) and Hahn carry the acting load. Pendergast and Fleet as the lecherous judge and his gumshoe add to the enjoyable sense of farce, while Ifans infuses dry humour from the sidelines.

The American Dream theme is handled with appropriate cynicism, Izzy's fantastical rapid rise from call girl to respected stage and screen actress presented without irony. Elsewhere Bogdanovich creates a society where marriage and relationships don't mean much to the men: Arnold and Joshua betray their partners without hesitation, while Seth pursues Delta with nauseating smarm.

For fans of film history there are references to Lana Turner, Rio Bravo, True Romance, and the 1946 Ernst Lubitsch movie Cluny Brown. Cybill Shepherd (as Izzy's mom) and a Tatum O'Neal cameo provide a nod to Bogdanovich's stellar past,

The first coincidental gathering of all the characters at a restaurant is on-target, but the story is pushed beyond its limits in the final third, as yet another round of chance encounters this time on the same hotel floor kicks off, an example of the same joke told too often. But overall She's Funny That Way provides enough sharp dialogue, adult situations and respectful winks at the past to comfortably ride out the rough patches.

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