She’s Funny That Way: Bogdanovich’s Disappointingly Unfunny Screwball Comedy, Starring Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston

she's_funny_that_way_1_wilson_pootsIt is with great regrets that I have to report that She’s Funny That Way, Peter Bogdanovich’s latest effort at a comeback, is a major disappointment, a screwball comedy that’s neither screwy enough nor sufficiently funny to earn the label of its honorable genre.



World-premiering at the 2014 Venice Film Fest, the comedy was greeted with mixed to negative response from international critics.  And the same unfavorable reaction is expected when the comedy bows theatrically and VOD on August 21, 2015.

Our grade: C (** out of *****)

she's_funny_that_way_5_pootsThe script, which is sharply uneven, was co-written by Bogdanovich and former wife Louise Stratten (sister of Dorothy Stratten, who was brutally slain by her jealous husband while having an affair with Bogdanovich), and has been kicking around town for a decade or so.

The film was produced by respectable directors Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, protégés of Bogdanovich, which attests to the vet filmmaker’s historical significance for a younger generation of American directors.

On paper, the central idea–a movie star who was once a popular hooker– and star driven ensemble–Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Imogen Poots, Kathryn Hahn, Rhys Ifans, and Will Forte–are far more promising that what actually unfolds on screen.

Wilson is well cast as the established director, Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson), who casts his call girl-turned-actress Izzy (Imogen Poots) in a new play to star alongside his wife (Kathryn Hahn) and her ex-lover (Rhys Ifans).  Aniston, who has teamed with Wilson before to better effect (Marlee and Me) is miscast as Jane, Izzy’s therapist, a femme burdened  with her own problems, specifically her failed relationship with Arnold’s playwright, Joshua (Will Forte), who also shows strong interest in the sexy Izzy.

she's_funny_that_way_4_wilsonAlongside with William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist), Bogdanovich must be counted as one of the saddest cases of the New American Cinema.  It’s hard to think of another director of his generation who had such a brilliant beginning.  He secured his place in the annals of film history with his 1971 Oscar-winning, The Last Picture Show, his acknowledged masterpiece. But that was four decades ago, and since then his career has seen many ups and downs and more downs.

A former critic and cinephile, Bogdanovich possesses the kind of vast and astute film knowledge that only a few directors–and critics–can match.  But alas, awareness of the traditions of his art form is no guarantee of creating something the equal of his influences, among which John Ford and Howard Hawks feature prominently.

This is Bogdanovich’s first film in 14 years–he last made the disappointing mystery melodrama, The Cat’s Meow, in 2001, She’s Funny That Way revisits and harks back to his own 1972 screwball comedy, What’s Up, Doc? a superb movie starring Ryan O’Neal, Barbra Streisand, and Madeline Kahn.

she's_funny_that_way_3_wilson_hahnTrying to rekindle the best elements of screwball comedy of Hollywood’s Golden Age, She’s Funny That Way is retro and old-fashioned in the worst senses of these terms.  Most of the characters are familiar types and stereotypes, and some downright clichés.

Take for example, the desirable Izzy, who is essentially a variation of the prostitute with a heart of gold, a type that Woody Allen has used several times in his pictures, including the 1995 Mighty Aphrodite and the 1997 self-referential, Deconstructing Harry

When the tale begins, Izzy is a movie star, giving a personal interview to a journalist (Illeana Douglas), who challenges her claim to have once served as the inspirational muse to many men, including prominent director Albertson (Wilson).

she's_funny_that_way_2_wilsonBorrowing the main device of the farce genre–ridiculously hilarious coincidence, Bogdanovich builds the whole tale around Izzy landing a part as a call girl in a new Broadway play, A Grecian Evening, to be directed by Albertson, her former client who has given Izzy $30,000 to quit her job as an escort in order to pursue her dream of becoming a legit actress.

But, alas, when she walks in for the audition, Albertson panics, especially after Izzy gives brilliant interpretation of the part. Albertson’s wife, Delta (Kathryn Hahn), who is starring in the play, urges him to cast her. Delta’s co-star (Ifans) has his own reasons for championing Izzy’s casting.

The playwright, Joshua (Forte), who also falls for Izzy, fails to realize that she’s a client of his therapist wife, Jane (Aniston),  whose alcoholic mother (Joanna Lumley) is in rehab. But wait, the irrational obsession with Izzy also includes supreme court judge (Austin Pendleton), one of Jane’s patients.

As noted, this whirlwind of silly wackiness, the staple of the farce genre, is not humorous enough to sustain a whole picture. What should have been a zany and tangled love roundelay, with both anticipated and unanticipated hilarious twists, turns rather tedious after the first reel or so.

Spoiler Alert

The saga is peppered by cameos from former stars in Bogdanovich’s films, such as Tatum O’Neal, and others, Jake Hoffman, Grayton Carter, Colleen Camp, and Michael Shannon.   Director Quentin Tarantino’s brief appearance comes too late and is too gimmicky.