Once upon a time Peter Bogdanovich was held in the same regard, if not higher, as 1970s New Hollywood star directors like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Altman.
His early films like The Last Picture Show, What’s Up, Doc? and Paper Moon were not only box-office but critical hits as well, consistently earning rave reviews from everyone who mattered.
That lofty reputation took a beating as the 1980s arrived and movie after movie flopped critically and financially. Now, at 75 years of age, with the support of producers and current Hollywood darlings Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, and 13 years after his last film (The Cat’s Meow), Bogdanovich is back with a delightful, if slightly clunky, tribute to classic 1930s and 1940s screwball comedies.
The film’s jazz score and New York setting might lead some to think that this is his take on a Woody Allen film, just like The Last Picture Show was his John Ford film and What’s Up, Doc? his Howard Hawks film. But to anyone who’s ever loved all those classic comedies by directors like Ernst Lubitsch, Preston Sturges, Leo McCarey and Mitchell Leisen, just a few minutes of She’s Funny That Way will bring back fond memories of those jewels.
Those were the days when Hollywood was capable of making hilariously cheeky and naughty movies about sex, but without actually needing to show the act, let alone be vulgar about it. In short, back then they could make movies about amorous characters without the movie itself being amorous.
Remember movies like Bringing Up Baby, The Awful Truth, Midnight, The Palm Beach Story, Trouble In Paradise or Design For Living? Bogdanovich sure does, as he skillfully cooks up a web-like scenario of so many entangled affairs, all revolving around central character Izzy aka Glo (a terrific Imogen Poots, despite the sometimes shaky Brooklyn accent), an aspiring actress who’s also a prostitute (or a “muse”, as Izzy hilariously tries to term it).
The story’s main thread stems from Izzy’s encounter with successful Broadway director Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson), who books a session with Glo from an escort service.
After a romantic night out and at the session’s end, Arnold gives Izzy US$30,000. In return, she has to promise to quit her line of work and pursue her dreams of becoming an actress instead.
As Arnold puts it in the film’s signature line: “In Central Park 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?”
Cinephiles might recognise that line of dialogue from a certain movie by Lubitsch, but Bogdanovich’s clever re-use of it in this film will definitely put a smile on your face, regardless of whether or not you’re aware of the quotation.
With $30,000 in the bank, Izzy of course decides to pursue her dream, and lands an audition for a role in a play that, unknown to her, is directed by none other than Arnold himself.
In that play are Arnold’s wife Delta (Kathryn Hahn) and Welsh movie star/heartthrob Seth (Rhys Ifans), who seem to have a history with each other – another of the film’s many adulterous affairs.
Then there’s the playwright Joshua (Will Forte), whose wife Jane (a hilarious Jennifer Aniston, channelling her recent comic work on Horrible Bosses and We’re The Millers) happens to be the psychologist to both Izzy and an obsessed client of Glo’s, Judge Pendergast (Austin Pendleton).
Throw into the mix a mysterious private detective hired by Judge Pendergast and Izzy’s parents (Cybill Shepherd and Richard Lewis), and you’ll have a fertile ground for comic misunderstandings, which the movie serves us to great effect.
In fact, the whole film plays like a major set-piece of one comic misunderstanding after another, nimbly set up with a brilliant audition scene and then brought to a head with a bravura sequence at a restaurant, in which every prominent character gets to meet. Only some of them are aware what’s happening while others are blissfully unaware of the chaos that awaits.
Beautifully paced and skilfully played by every member of the cast, the movie suffers only from static, very simple and almost TV-like camera setups, which show none of the visual ingenuity that Bogdanovich once displayed as a young man.
But that is merely nitpicking in what is an often uproarious throwback to the good old days of classic Hollywood. They just don’t make them like this anymore.
SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Cast: Imogen Poots, Owen Wilson, Rhys Ifans, Jennifer Aniston, Will Forte, Kathryn Hahn