An old-skool screwball comedy with a lot of Imogen Poots charm and the usual Owen Wilson
(Warning: This review contains spoilers.)
This film marks Peter Bogdanovich's first big screen release since his last film in 1993, The Thing Called Love. The experienced writer-director was a multiple award winner and Oscar nominee for his 1971 film The Last Picture Show, which is currently still 100% Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. In She's Funny That Way, it seems that Bogdanovich was trying to not only pay homage to some classics, but also to his own brand of screwball comedy, which is no longer unfamiliar to its target audiences today.
The film is set in sort of a flashback-like narrative where the central character, Izzy (Imogen Poots), tells her success story in a one-to-one interview with a journalist. But there are scenes in the past timeline that don't involve Izzy at all. Which makes the narrative style quite pointless other than to quicken the pacing of the first act, and to allow the protagonist to tell the audience her thoughts of each event. but nothing can be more pointless than the ending where Quentin Tarantino (writer-director of Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds, Kill Bill, Memento) makes a cameo appearance while revealing that the whole story may be made up, as though Bogdanovich was paying tribute to The Usual Suspects (1993) with the wrong guy. With Wes Anderson (writer-director of The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom) as the co-producer as well, you can expect a few more brief appearances by familiar actors.
Izzy's success story is basically a screwball version of Pretty Woman (1990). But other than from being an optimistic, free-spirited prostitute to marrying a rich guy, she almost achieves her dream of becoming a famous Broadway actress, which is why she's having this interview. She met this client, Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson), who so happens to have this "high" of taking his hookers out on a date before sleeping with them and finishing off by offering them a lot of money to quit their current profession and pursue their ambitions, no strings attached. And so she did but things get awkward when her agent got her an audition for a hooker role in a play directed by her last client - Arnold, who's actually a successful and married Broadway director with kids. And ironically, his wife, Delta (Kathryn Hahn), whose also an actress, will be playing the role of a wife whose husband slept with the character Izzy's auditioning for.
Like most films with the same concept, the problems of each character will somehow get snowballed, linked and crashed with one and another, creating this huge comically awkward mess that the characters will have to dig holes to escape from. The playwright, Joshua (Will Forte), falls for Izzy but is actually already dating her very grumpy therapist, Jane (Jennifer Aniston), while Jane's other patient is an obsessed former client of Izzy's (Austin Pendleton) who hired Joshua's father (George Morfogen) as a private eye to stalk Izzy. The lead actor in the play is Seth Gilbert (Rhys Ifans) who saw Izzy with Arnold at the hotel previously and has always been trying to have an affair with Delta. And Arnold, somehow starts to bump into the hookers he "helped" more often than ever before and at the wrong time, wrong place. In most scenes, while the dialogues can be sweet and witty, some shit is always going to fall upon the characters. There are a lot of coincidence and convenience but that's typically the pattern of comedies like this. This hilariously chaotic atmosphere is maintained throughout the film.
Apart from the waste of Will Forte's comical talent, the cast performed well for their respective roles. Owen Wilson got to be the usual him with practically the same style of acting playing a character who's miserable and yet can't be sympathised. Jennifer Aniston, like in Horrible Bosses, plays a smaller role as a troublesome specialist, but it's not a sexy one this time. But no performance here shines brighter than Imogen Poots' (Need For Speed, 28 Weeks Later). Not only she's gorgeous, she's able to channel so much charm despite the hooker character with such casual personality and rough accent.
While the film is very watchable, it does have a few downsides - there's zero moral to the story, the big finale and ending are lazy, the film doesn't have a single strong moment of absolute hilarity or drama, and most of the sequences don't tally with a logical reaction to incidents. It's obvious that something's very wrong and yet none of the characters are critical enough to ask questions like, "Why are you acting like this? What is really going on? She just slapped you to the ground and screamed at you in the restaurant, and who is she?" It's frustrating at times but like Arnold's line that's taken from the 1946 classic Cluny Brown, “In Central Park, some people like to feed nuts to the squirrels. But if it makes you happy to feed squirrels to the nuts, who am I to say nuts to the squirrels?”
Malaysia censorship: Although the film's protagonist is a prostitute who sleeps with Owen Wilson, there isn't any nudity. Heck, I can't even recall any vulgarity. The most our beloved film censorship board to demand is to cut off the mild kissing.
Second opinion: My girlfriend felt that although it's quite an ordinary comedy, it's still fun to watch.
Verdict: It may not going be a memorable screwball comedy but it is quite humourous and charming.
Rating: 3 / 5
Running Time: 94 minutes
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Screenwriters: Peter Bogdanovich, Louise Stratten
Cast: Imogen Poots, Owen Wilson, Will Forte, Jennifer Aniston
Malaysia Release Date: 7 May 2015
Local Distributor: GSC Movies
Production: Lagniappe Films, Venture Forth
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