Film: “She’s Funny That Way”; Cast: Imogen Poots, Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Kathryn Hahn, Rhys Ifans, Will Forte, Illeana Douglas and Debi Mazar; Director: Peter Bogdanovich; Rating: **
With plenty of unintentionally misleading or accidentally confusing exchanges between its characters, director Peter Bogdanovich’s “She’s Funny That Way” is an old-fashioned comedy that lacks zing.
It is a laboured farce about an actress, being in the right place at the right time and her beliefs in miracles and happy endings.
The convoluted plot is narrated in a non-linear manner. The narration begins with the actress, Issabella Patterson (Imogen Poots), recalling to the cynical journalist Judy (Illeana Douglas) the lucky events of her life that paved the way for her success.
While Issabella and Judy’s conversation is just a framing device, the pulp of the tale is in the flashbacks. As the tale unfolds, it is amusing to watch Issabella who calls herself Izzy, admit to her shady past as a prostitute. She went under the pseudonym ‘Glo’ on an online escort agency operated by Vickie (Debi Mazar).
During one of her escapades, she meets Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson), a Broadway director with a heart of gold, who after spending the night with her, offers her a deal: “If you promise me tonight that you aren’t going to do this again (escort business), I’ll give you thirty thousand dollars. Use the money to pursue your dreams.”
Since Issabella dreams of becoming an actress, she inevitably and coincidentally auditions for a role in Arnold’s forthcoming play.
On seeing her at the audition, Arnold is dumbfound and hesitant to cast her. But much against his wishes, she lands up impressing the playwright Joshua (Will Forte) whose girlfriend Jane Claremont (Jennifer Aniston) is her therapist; the other actress in the play – Delta (Kathryn Hahn), who happens to be Arnold’s wife; and the lead actor Seth Gilbert (Rhys Ifans), who happens to be Delta’s ex-lover.
The turn of events, with absurd coincidences filled with scepticism and hope, is what keeps the plot rolling. With the pace in the scenes varying from laidback to energetic, seriously funny to “have seen it before, yawn”, this is an exercise in screwball antics, where the three actresses have well-chiselled roles.
All actors seem to have fun with their roles, especially in the restaurant scene and in the play rehearsals. Imogen Poots gives a delightful performance as Issabella the call girl and wannabe actress who is in awe of Audrey Hepburn. She transcends from a muse to an actress with ease.
Kathryn Hahn with her wide range of emotions excels as the strong-willed wife and a professional actress. She goes from honourable and decorous to unbecoming in a blink of a moment. As her ex-lover and matinee idol, Rhys Ifans doesn’t look the part, but his expressions throughout the film are priceless.
It is Jennifer Aniston who steals the show as the loud and crass psychiatrist from hell. She brings in a direct contrast to a stereotypical therapist. It is hilarious to watch her fight with Joshua and team up with Austin Pendleton, who plays Judge Pendergast who, too, is obsessed with Izzy.
Owen Wilson, though believable as the philandering stage director, fails to earn our sympathy. Will Forte as Joshua, a man under the thumb of his girlfriend, is short-changed with an underwritten role.
There is something attractive about the songs that are used as the background score especially in the beginning and the end of the film. It takes you on a nostalgic trip of the late 1960s.
With good production values, the film is neither a dud nor the director’s best. It is simply limp.