More neurosis, etc., from Woody AllenWoody Allen has made some masterpieces (“Crimes and Misdemeanors,” “Hannah and Her Sisters”), a couple of embarrassing Ingmar Bergman knockoffs (so I’m told, though I haven’t seen them) and an apparently endless series of pleasant, urbane, literate comedies set among Manhattan’s affluent creative class, which in hindsight all blend together into a single chatty, nervous mass with a Cole Porter soundtrack and a couple hundred Dostoevsky references. In “Husbands and Wives,” was Woody a frustrated novelist tempted to cheat on his wife with Juliette Lewis, or a frustrated documentarian tempted to cheat on his wife with Mira Sorvino? Did John Cusack play the aspiring young writer in “Celebrity,” or was that Kenneth Branagh? Which movie was Alan Alda in? Or was he in two?
“Anything Else,” a 2003 release that’s just now making it to Korea, is squarely in the category of Woody Allen movies that you won’t particularly remember later. Its hero is another aspiring young writer, this one played by Jason Biggs (of the “American Pie” movies); Allen this time plays a mentor figure, an odd invidividual named Dobel, a high school teacher who wants to be a comedy writer.
Dobel’s a paranoiac, suffering from the specifically Jewish paranoia that’s a minor running theme in Allen’s movies: the grim certainty that the next Holocaust, or at least the next pogrom, is right around the corner (of course, it could be argued that that conviction is too grounded in reality to be considered paranoia). A passing stranger mumbles something, and Dobel becomes unshakably sure that it was an anti-Semitic taunt. He can’t believe that his young protege (Biggs) doesn’t have his own “survival kit,” so one day he shows up at his apartment with the gift of a loaded rifle.
While that description might make Dobel sound like a very distinctive individual, the truth is that not much of that eccentricity makes it to the screen on a visceral level. That’s because we’re not really seeing a guy named Dobel; we’re seeing Woody Allen, twitchily delivering his self-deprecating one-liners and references to philosophers and ruminations on the futility of everything. “Dobel” is just the name he answers to this time, and paranoia is just this year’s gimmick. And while this may be Jason Biggs’s first appearance in a Woody Allen movie, he’s very far from playing the first Woody Allen protagonist who’s a struggling young writer in New York City, or who talks directly to the camera about his relationship problems, or who has a squirmingly funny scene with a wife or girlfriend in which he’s trying to hide the fact that he’s attracted to somebody new.
It’s all a familiar ritual by now; only the faces change. That’s the problem with most of Allen’s movies ―assuming it’s a problem, which maybe it isn’t. As a Woody Allen movie, “Anything Else” is scarcely worth mentioning, but as an American comedy it’s wittier than 90 percent of the competition. And the new faces, including the amiable Biggs and Christina Ricci as the pouty, juicy, self-absorbed invitation to disaster he becomes involved with, handle themselves gracefully enough. I hear Will Ferrell’s going to be in the next one.
Comedy / English
by David Moll