Mark Reviews Movies

She's Funny That Way


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Cast: Imogen Poots, Owen Wilson, Kathryn Hahn, Will Forte, Rhys Ifans, Jennifer Aniston, Austin Pendleton, George Morfogen, Illeana Douglas, Richard Lewis, Cybill Shepherd, Debi Mazar

MPAA Rating: R (for some language including sexual references)

Running Time: 1:33

Release Date: 8/21/15 (limited); 8/28/15 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 28, 2015

The opening text crawl informs us that the Hollywood starlet believes in fantasy and happy endings, while the cynical journalist interviewing her does not. The journalist, the prologue additionally tells us, is like so many of the modern age, who are not only cynics but also insulted by the notion of such things as fantasy and a happy ending. She's Funny That Way immediately sets itself up in a defensive position: The starlet is the movie, and the audience is the journalist. The movie is daring us to write it off as some kind of dopey, childish lark that doesn't understand the real world, because of course it is. That's the point.

The story of the starlet and the journalist, though, is just a framing device. They appear together every so often, as the starlet recounts the story of the lucky events that paved the way for her current success. It's unimportant that the dichotomy between the hopeful and the skeptical exists once the actress' tale begins to unfold. It is, admittedly, amusing to watch her try to cover up the seedier aspects of her history by admitting to them without flat-out saying that, say, she really was a prostitute at one point in her life. "Izzy was the call girl," the actress says. "But you're Izzy," the journalist probes. "Yes," the actress responds; "I am." That ends the discussion about that.

That might be the best exchange provided by director Peter Bogdanovich and Louise Stratten's screenplay, which provides plenty of intentionally misleading or accidentally confusing exchanges between its characters. This is a movie that not only believes in old-fashioned ideas but also adheres to the old-fashioned concept of farce.

Every character is tied together in some way or multiple ways of which they may or may not be aware. Characters gather—unbeknownst to each other—in one locale, where, inevitability, they literally or figuratively collide. Real or perceived transgressions are met with a punch square to the face or a hard sleep across the cheek. There's even a sequence in a hotel hallway involving characters entering and exiting doors in fairly rapid succession.

It's old-fashioned farce, but it's not quite good old-fashioned farce. Save for a few scenes and performances, the energy is more hurried than manic. There's little consistency, too, which means that a scene might suddenly erupt in chaos, only to quickly return to relative normalcy before diminishing to a putter. One actor might be playing his or her scenes to the balcony while the others are far more laid back.

The plot is perhaps too convoluted (as, admittedly, is necessary for this kind of material) to really explain without a fully essay devoted to the subject, but the gist follows. Isabella (Imogen Poots) is, in the flashbacks, the aspiring-and-future actress/professional escort whose newest client is Arnold (Owen Wilson), a theater director who is mounting a new play in New York City. After a pleasant night of dinner and passionate lovemaking, Arnold offers Isabella a deal: If she quits the escort business, he'll give her $30,000 to pursue her dream.

Since her dream is to become an actress, inevitably, Isabella auditions for the lead role (a call girl, coincidentally enough) in Arnold's play. The other lead actress in the play is Arnold's wife Delta (Kathryn Hahn), who doesn't know about her husband's habit of philanthropic philandering. She—as well as the lead actor Seth (Rhys Ifans), who saw Isabella leave Arnold's room that night, and the playwright Joshua (Will Forte), who has intentions of gentlemanly romance with Isabella—believes Isabella is perfect for the role. Arnold tries to hide his affairs (with women who all seem to have gathered in New York) and keep everyone happy.

That covers about half of the major characters here. There's also a psychiatrist named Jane (Jennifer Aniston), who has a terrible couch-side manner and is sort-of dating Joshua, as well as Joshua's father (George Morfogen), who is a private investigator following Isabella on behalf of a judge (Austin Pendleton) who is obsessed with her. After mentioning that Illeana Douglas plays the journalist, let's just call it quits there.

This is all theoretically sound for an exercise in screwball antics, but it's never all that convincing in practice. It's not the fault of the actors, who range from serviceable to quite good.

In a pleasant change of pace, the men get the least interesting roles, while the three central actresses get the best characters and material. Aniston is amusing as a shrink who insists it would be unprofessional to reveal information about her clients—before and after doing just that. Hahn transcends the cliché of the betrayed wife, ensuring that Delta is the most strong-willed person in any room she occupies. Poots, whose tin-eared Brooklyn accent at first seems as if it will crater her performance, is so utterly and effortlessly charming in the role of a doe-eyed ingénue that the dialect becomes a second, a third, and, finally, of no thought.

Those three performances are in the right tone, even though they're, well, of very different tones individually. The rest of She's Funny That Way never quite meshes, though. The movie would argue that's just a cynic talking, but so be it.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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