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(2003) (Jason Biggs, Christina Ricci) (R)

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Romantic Comedy: A young comedy writer tries to figure out why his neurotic girlfriend won't be intimate with him anymore.
Jerry Falk (JASON BIGGS) is a comedy writer whose neurotic and manipulative live-in girlfriend, Amanda (CHRISTINA RICCI), won't sleep with him anymore. Jerry's new friend, paranoid school teacher-cum-comedy writer David Dobel (WOODY ALLEN) doesn't think that's good. While giving him all sorts of philosophical and comedy based advice about that as well as him needing a survival kit and gun, he also tells Jerry that he should dump his washed up manager, Harvey (DANNY DEVITO).

Jerry, who has a weakness when it comes to breaking off unsuccessful relationships - be they romantic or professional - can't bring himself to do that, especially since he's Harvey's only client. He also can't break up with Amanda, despite believing she's cheating on him. Things only get worse when Amanda's alcoholic and washed up singer mom, Paula (STOCKARD CHANNING), moves in with them.

With David filling Jerry's head with all sorts of disturbing thoughts, the young writer must decide what to do in his professional and personal lives.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
They say that love is blind but that hindsight is 20/20. Like most everyone else, I can attest to not seeing how wrong certain significant others were for me until it was too late and those relationships were doomed and then over.

One in particular was with a young woman who turned out to be a neurotic, manipulative harpy, but for some reason I didn't acknowledge what everyone else saw until it was too late. Thus, I can empathize and sympathize with Jerry Falk, the protagonist in Woody Allen's latest romantic comedy, "Anything Else."

You see, he's fallen for his own neurotic, manipulative harpy - played pitch perfect by Christina Ricci ("Pumpkin," "Sleepy Hollow") - but can't see and/or accept that she's that way and that they're wrong for each other. Love may be nearsighted, but it's also cruel and when that's the case in an Allen film, you expect the results to be funny.

Or at least that used to be the case in his older pictures before he started casting younger actors in the lead roles where they essentially played him or a version thereof. That happens again here with Jason Biggs ("Saving Silverman," the "American Pie" films). While he's doing a slight impersonation - at least of a Woody Allen type character, complete with stammering and deer in the headlights reaction to the escalating domestic chaos - it's not as annoying as was the case with Kenneth Branagh doing a dead-on take in "Celebrity."

Of course, since Allen appears in the film alongside Biggs, such an exact impersonation would have been an unwise move. Allen plays a school teacher and comedy writer best described as an intellectual and philosophical but paranoid kook. His is a potential-filled character, but like most of the film, that element isn't fully realized.

Allen - who also wrote the script - does give himself some of the film's better lines. Yet, most are intellectually amusing rather than laugh out loud funny, let alone hilarious. Similarly, Allen ("Hollywood Ending," "The Curse of the Jade Scorpion") doesn't get as much comedic, ironic or poignant mileage out of the main story.

The filmmaker's fans - while probably recognizing he's obviously not at the top of his game here - will probably appreciate the standard setup and filmmaking style that's fueled many of his previous efforts. That said, the "guy who's unable to dump his cheating girlfriend or washed-up manager" plot feels unfulfilled.

The same holds true for the bits where Biggs breaks the fourth wall and directly addresses the camera (and thus the viewer) to comment on the proceedings. It's clearly not a novel cinematic device and neither cast nor crew does anything imaginative enough with that to warrant its existence.

Beyond Allen and Biggs - who's not half bad out of his "American Pie" persona - Ricci perfectly captures the irritating neuroses of her character. That, coupled with her similarities to my former girlfriend, however didn't exactly make her particularly endearing in any way to me.

The talented Stockard Channing ("Le Divorce," TV's "The West Wing") and Danny DeVito ("Heist," "Ruthless People") bring some class to their smaller, supporting characters, but they ultimately don't really amount to much. Overall, the film feels the same way. In the end, it falls somewhere in the middle of the pack of Allen's overall body of work. While clearly not up there with his best efforts, it's certainly better than some of his more recent flawed and/or failed pictures. "Anything Else" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed September 16, 2003 / Posted September 19, 2003

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