Wednesday, December 02, 2015

She's Funny That Way (2014)

A deliberately old-fashioned throwback to the heyday of screwball comedies, Peter Bogdanovich's latest film is a heartfelt and charming farce, even if the humor misses more than it hits. The premise involves a prominent theater director (Owen Wilson), in New York to direct his latest play, who spends the night with a Brooklyn call-girl (Imogen Poots) and pays her $30,000 if she promises to quit her job and pursue her dreams instead. It turns out her dreams involve being an actress, and she auditions for the play that Wilson just happens to be directing. Turns out she's great, and the rest of the cast pressure Wilson into giving her the part. Needless to say, this complicates things greatly, especially since the play stars the director's wife (whom the leading man also harbors a long-lasting romantic desire for). This being a farce, the zany cast of characters all intersect at inopportune moments, leading to much comic confusion and mishaps, but of course, all is set right in the end.

Bogdanovich obviously has a real love for the models that he's working from here, and peppers the script (co-written by Louise Stratten) with references to many of Hollywood's great romantic comedies (most notably Lubitsch's Cluny Brown, which provides the film with its running joke about the line "squirrels to the nuts"). He works with a splendid cast here, headed by Owen Wilson, Imogen Poots, Jennifer Aniston, Kathryn Hahn, Rhys Ifans, Will Forte, Austin Pendleton, Illeana Douglas, and Cybill Shepherd and Richard Lewis, who are especially funny as the aspiring actress's bickering, working-class parents.

Most of the reviews I have read dwell on the fact that the film is old-fashioned. The comedy is old-fashioned, certainly, though not always in the way Bogdanovich may have intended. It was evidently originally conceived as a vehicle for John Ritter in the 1990s, and feels very much like the kind of mid-budget Indie comedy that might have been made at that time. Still, there's an undeniable charm about it that works, thanks to the sheer fun that the cast seems to be having. There are not really any surprises here, sure, and it is unlikely to be remembered as one of Bogdanovich's better films, but it's an affectionate tribute to the fine comedies from Hollywood's golden age, made by a filmmaker (one of our greatest) who clearly loves those films.

No comments: