‘Anything Else,’ Woody?

Matt Siblo

Woody Allen, the legendary filmmaker, now 67, has been struggling with his audience for almost a decade. It was around 1993 that Allen’s reputation became substantially tarnished by his divorce to Mia Farrow and his blossoming relationship-marriage to his adopted stepdaughter Soon Yi. Since then critics have argued that his work has become Woodylite, a glazed-over, lovable version of his former genius as an effort to rekindle a connection with his confused and jilted audience. And although this argument is in fact valid and fairly evident by Allen’s output from the mid-’90s on, it has never stopped him from making highly watchable, engaging romantic comedies.   

“Anything Else,” Allen’s latest, is no different. In the last film of his three-movie deal with Dreamworks, Allen (or perhaps the suits at Dreamworks) decided to seek out a younger, hipper cast by hiring the likes of “American Pie” alum Jason Biggs, Jimmy Fallon of “Saturday Night Live” and the always pleasant on the eyes Christina Ricci. (It should also be noted that Allen was not included in any of the advertisements for the movie.) Biggs starts off the movie speaking directly to the screen à la “Annie Hall” and one can’t help feeling ripped off by his noticeably faulty Woody Allen impression.  But since Allen is no longer believable as the sex-crazed Casanova protagonist he once was (or perceived himself to be), the torch has hesitantly been passed.

And while I felt Biggs’ performance floundered at first, half way through the film I felt his character had become very likeable and quite charismatic. This role now serves as proof to the fact that he can act and succeed in doing so for a movie where its demographic audience’s I.Q. is above 50. Ricci also puts forth a strong effort as a bipolar sociopath whose lovable attributes include binge eating, snorting coke with her mother and sleeping around on Biggs.

Allen plays Biggs’ writing partner/mentor, David Dobel, whose witty one liners and typical Manhattanite-Jewish neurosis gives the audience a  glimpse into the shtick that made Woody Allen a household name.

While the Camus references may go directly over the heads of the films target demographic, this says more about today’s youth than it does about the director’s sense of humor.   After watching “Anything Else,” I can’t help but feel that Allen’s heart has been left behind in a different time and place; a time where Gershwin roared at the end of a picture and shopping for Billie Holiday records was a great way to pick up girls.

While the dialogue sounds fresher than many of his most recent films, the movie still struggles to find a balance between the typical Allen sense of humor and the noticeably young cast to which its being relayed from. “Anything Else” plays like a Fisher Price “My first Woody Allen” movie, which is what it will hopefully act as to my generation.

Within the canon of Allen films, there is no denying that “Anything Else” would lie near the middle of the road. However, coming from one of the best American filmmakers of all time, that’s no easy feat. If this movie musters up even a few converts, I’d be satisfied because ,frankly, I’m tired of worshipping at this altar all by myself.