She's Funny That Way (2015)
She's Funny That Way may bring back a rush of memories. Or just a spasm.
It's directed by Peter Bogdanovich, who created several major films, e.g., The Last Picture Show (1971), What's Up, Doc? (1972). And whose personal life was wracked with grief and pain - the murder of lover Dorothy Stratten. He subsequently married her younger sister Louise. Vertigo, anyone? They divorced in 2001.
She's Funny That Way was written by Peter and Louise, and has been a project for more than a decade.
Bogdanovich began his career as actor and writer; he was a movie devotee. He had classic interviews with John Ford and Orson Welles. He is steeped in film history.
I met Peter Bogdanovich and Cybill Shepherd in Chicago, where Universal was promoting various films. They were in Chicago to promote At Long Last Love (1975) - their third collaboration. Peter had discovered Cybill in Texas for The Last Picture Show, and he became smitten with her and they lived together.
At our encounter, Peter was testy. At Long Last Love had opened in Boston and New York to negative reviews. He was militantly anti-critic, which was ironic, given the fact that writing about film was important to his career.
Cybill didn't take herself seriously. When she was asked about taking roles that weren't "ingénue" types, she frowned and saucily dismissed the idea, because "then I would have to act." Thatta girl!
Later I saw and reviewed At Long Last Love. The comments I made then are totally applicable to the present She's Funny That Way.
I wrote, "I have never reviewed a film quite like At Long Last Love. It should never have been made. Once made, it should never have been released.
"Peter Bogdanovich turns nostalgia into neuralgia.
"At Long Last Love is a film which causes the audience to talk back to the screen."
I admit that when I recently saw She's Funny That Way, I swore at the screen.
She's Funny That Way. What way? It's not in the film. In no way.
She's Funny That Way is the story of Isabella (Izzy) Patterson, a call girl, who has a relationship with a stage director Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson). Izzy is an aspiring actress, and she also gets involved with playwright (Will Forte), when she reads for his play, which is to be directed by Arnold. Actor Seth Gilbert (Rhys Ifans) and Arnold's wife Delta (Kathryn Hahn) join the stumbling swarm through the movie.
The film has several sequences of Izzy talking to an interviewer (Illena Douglas) about life and career. But it's a drab conversation.
In some ways, Bogdanovich seems to be trying to channel some of What's Up, Doc? - his spirited romp. Barbra Streisand gave that film an unparalleled irrepressibility. Bogdanovich brings back Austin Pendleton from What's Up, Doc? and casts him as a judge with prurient interests. But he flounders.
When Bogdanovich casts right - Barbra or Tatum O'Neal in Paper Moon (1973) - it's great. But when Bogdanovich miscasts - Burt Reynolds in At Long Last Love - it's miserable.
When he cast Imogen Poots as Izzy in She's Funny That Way, his film was doomed. A British actress, she's all grating New York accent and no talent. As narrator, she has no verve. Barbra would make fun of the corny dialogue. Imogen can't. She's as dull as her lines.
Cybill was Bogdanovich's Daisy Faye Buchanan. Imogen is his Myrtle Wilson.
Maybe off screen, Poots has some personality. On screen, she's just an annoying drone.
Bogdanovich and Stratten's writing doesn't help. It probably couldn't.
How could a writer like Bogdanovich with so much knowledge be so oblivious to tone?
Bogdanovich's direction of movement is embarrassingly awkward. When Austin Pendleton knocks drinking glasses off a table and pratfalls in a restaurant, it is strained and clumsy.
A crowd scene is moribund. And Bogdanovich's use of phones as a comedy prop is humorless.
Bogdanovich tries to say qualities, instead of showing them. Izzy is called "special" in the dialogue. She's "inspiring." But mediocrity is in no way special or inspiring. She supposedly becomes a movie star. Bogdanovich is supposed to know stardom - it's not doldrums. There's no sign in the movie of the elements that are spoken.
There's not a single funny line, unless like Bogdanovich you think saying "condom" is humorous.
In She's Funny That Way, the one winner is Woody Allen. Bogdanovich's failure shows Woody's ceaseless gifts. One need only compare Owen Wilson's wonderful performance in Woody's Midnight in Paris (2011) to Wilson's survival course in the Bogdanovich trek.
The rest of the cast struggles with erratic material. Will Forte is solid as always. So too is Rhys Ifans, with his amiable smirk.
Jennifer Aniston survives her wayward convolutions as a therapist.
Bogdanovich even brings back Cybill Shepherd as Izzy's mother. Her husband is played by the odious Richard Lewis. Is Cybill preparing for roles in hell?
At the end of She's Funny That Way, Bogdanovich has a good idea of passing the torch onto a renowned figure in a cameo part. But by that point, the torch has sputtered.
It has gone out.