Anything Else
3 stars
starring Jason Biggs, Christina Ricci and Woody Allen

review by Stephen Notley

One might think from the ads that Anything Else is a light goofy teen comedy. That's because the commercials prominently display Jason Biggs, hapless pie-humper from the American Pie films, so it's natural to assume this will be a similar kind of movie. But the thing to remember --even though the commericals barely mention it -- is that this is a Woody Allen movie, first and foremost. So, goofy hijinx with the standard teen comedy gross-joke-du-semaine? No. Torturous neurotic non-comedy about what it's like to live in the putrifying corpse of a months-dead relationship? Yep, that's more like it.

A few years ago Woody Allen wisely decided to stop playing the Woody Allen role in his movies, with Kenneth Branagh playing Woody in Celebrity and now Jason Biggs playing him in Anything Else. Here he's young comedy writer Jerry Falk, which is not really a joke even though it sort of sounds like "fuck" whenever people say his name. In typical Woody Allen character fashion, Falk is a mess of stutters and neuroses and humiliating moments of cowardice. He's a shmuck who's incapable of standing up to the array of needy people and hangers-on in his life, chief among them his wretched psycho constantly-cheating girlfriend Amanda played by Christina Ricci.

Ricci's not afraid to play unsympathetic roles, and there's not much to like about Amanda. She's a selfish flake, basically, ensnaring Falk with passionate sex that almost instantly dries up, keeping him around as a backup or fallback ever after. She weedles, she complains, she radiates stay-away-from-me anti-girlfriend energy at Falk while insisting that she loves him… she's a real piece of work.

Luckily, Jason Bigg's Woody Allen-character has an ally in… Woody Allen, who plays a 65-ish comedy writer who befriends Falk. It's a bit odd; the movie feels like modern-day Woody sitting his 25-year-old self down to give him advice. What kind of advice? Well, you know, the basics: quit always trying to please people, wake up to the fact that your girlfriend's cheating on you, and buy a shotgun or two just in case people start getting funny ideas about stuffing Jews in box cars again. Modern-day Woody is a little addled, y'see.

Like most Woody movies, Anything Else isn't strong on plot; it's just a gradual revelation of how brutal Falk and Amanda's partnership is. It's this relationship, or anti-relationship, that drives the movie, but hilarious comedy set pieces are not the destination. No, this film is more about squirming in your seat, grimacing as Falk pleads "Isn't she great?" or wincing when he asks, "Do you love me?" and she replies, "How can you say that just because I pull away when you try to touch me?" Um, ha ha… ha?

Anything Else isn't funny; if anything, it's anti-funny, so anybody looking for laughs should probably look elsewhere. But that's not to say it's a bad movie. It's not funny, but it feels true; Anything Else finds those nerves of guilt and shame and jealousy and weakness and presses them again and again. You can't help but feel it as you watch. It's just not a very nice feeling.