“Certainly there is a degree of charm in the movie’s nostalgic tone and wistful mood, but this is hard to see through when it’s surrounded by a story often too convoluted and overpacked to be amusing.”
by Ken Bakely
It is somewhat astounding that She’s Funny That Way is as mediocre as it is – after all, the film is directed by the great Peter Bogdanovich, and has a great cast, with names such as Owen Wilson, Imogen Poots, and Rhys Ifans. However, in this attempt to create a modern day “screwball comedy”, a subgenre popular in the early-to-mid 20th century, the screenplay falls curiously flat, with a messily structured plot leading to inexplicable actions and hastily written solutions. After that, things become spectacularly uninvolving. Even the name of the picture could have been snappier – a repeated reference to Ernst Lubitsch’s Cluny Brown led to the project briefly having the working title Squirrels to the Nuts (“Some people like to feed nuts to the squirrels, but if it makes you happy to feed squirrels to the nuts, who am I to say ‘nuts to the squirrels?’”).
Anyway, Squirrels to the Nuts – I mean, She’s Funny That Way – is told through a framing device – Poots portrays Isabella, a Brooklyn-based actress who believes in fate, even though, as the opening title cards read, the world around her is far more cynical. She tells her story to one of these cynical types, a journalist interviewing her. Isabella tells the story of how she began her working life as a prostitute, in order to earn money. However, in the process she met Arnold Albertson (Wilson), a theatre director who she later wound up meeting again in the context of an audition for a play starring the inflated Seth Gilbert (Ifans). Everything is connected, Isabella explains, because the script she auditioned for was written by Joshua (Will Forte), who was dating her harried, unbalanced therapist (Jennifer Aniston), who had another patient, a retired judge (Austin Pendleton), who frequently paid for Isabella’s services before she left prostitution altogether. This tangled web of characters becomes the basis for a battle of the sexes, the revelation of hidden romantic feelings, and 93 minutes’ worth of playfully acted but intermittently confusing material.
Yes, She’s Funny That Way feels remarkably dated, but that is Bogdanovich’s intention. Certainly here is a degree of charm in the movie’s nostalgic tone and wistful mood, but this is hard to see through when it’s surrounded by a story often too convoluted and overpacked to be amusing. A sequence in the third act in which Aniston’s character goes on the warpath throughout two hotel rooms, only to blow up at remarkably similar misunderstandings, is funny because of her acidic performance and the clever way the scenes are cut. But the flimsy setup given by the screenplay at an otherwise pivotal moment in the film didn’t contribute to the success of that particular moment. It’s the A-list cast which saves the proceedings from being a total letdown, but frankly one is left with so many disappointments in the writing department that the final product is left in the uncomfortable middle ground of idolizing the past while acknowledging the present, unable to fully embrace one or the other.