0535 | She’s Funny That Way

This screwball comedy makes affectionate come-hither glances toward Hollywood Past, but sadly it doesn’t pack anywhere near as many laughs in as the films it’s in thrall of, which is a shame for Peter Bogdanovich as he has spent close to 15 years trying to get it made. The typically-lightweight story takes place in New York and revolves around a call girl named Isabella (Imogen Poots, laying the Brooklyn accent on thick), who is ‘rescued’ from her chosen profession by smitten and benevolent theatre director Arnold (Owen Wilson). Arnold is married, but he’s in love with the idea of helping the girls who work for one particular escort service, assuming all the while that they need or want his help. And so, thanks to Arnold, Isabella ends up getting a chance at a big break in a rather turgid-looking Broadway play, which leads her to its writer Joshua (Will Forte), who becomes as smitten as the director. Soon enough Joshua’s dangerously close to cheating on his therapist girlfriend (Jennifer Aniston), while usually hovering nearby is Arnold’s wife (and the play’s lead actress) Delta (Kathryn Hahn), who once had an affair with her stage co-star (Rhys Ifans). Throw in a dad in disguise, a judge who is also in love with Isabella and an Entertainment Weekly‘s worth of celebrity cameos – Michael Shannon, Quentin Tarantino, Joanna Lumley, Cybill Shepard, Richard Lewis, Colleen Camp, Debi Mazar, Graydon Carter, Tatum O’Neal and many more – and you’ve got yourself a 90-minute film that quickly starts to feel overstuffed with characters and distracting familiar faces.

She’s Funny That Way is (unnecessarily) framed as a flashback, with Poots’ newly-successful actress looking back on her big break during an interview with Illeana Douglas’ skeptical journalist, and it includes several of those classic and contrived screwball farce scenes in which half a dozen characters or more all converge on the same location – a hotel room, a restaurant, a department store, a theatre rehearsal – at the same time. Perhaps I wasn’t in the right mood, but it really didn’t do much for me at all, although I enjoy watching Wilson when he’s playing semi-likeable douchebags like Arnold, and Aniston’s overworked, aggressive shrink is good fun too. It struck me as being similar to the kind of sub-par romcoms that Woody Allen gets vilified for every four or five years, but I guess screwball fans who really know the history of the genre might get more out of it, as there are some obvious and not-so-obvious references to a number of old comedies.

Directed by: Peter Bogdanovich.
Written by: Louise Stratten, Peter Bogdanovich.
Starring: Imogen Poots, Owen Wilson, Kathryn Hahn, Will Forte, Rhys Ifans, Jennifer Aniston, Austin Pendleton, Cybill Shepard, Illeana Douglas, Richard Lewis, Debi Mazar.
Cinematography: Yaron Orbach.
Editing: Nick Moore, Pax Wassermann.
Music: Edward Shearmur.
Certificate: 12A.
Running Time: 93 minutes.
Year: 2015.

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