Directed by: Peter Bogdanovich
Starring: Imogen Poots, Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Rhys Ifans, Kathryn Hahn
There’s a reason people like the American screwball comedies from the 30s and 40s. They’re silly yet sophisticated, combining farcical plots with funny fast-talk and ridiculous romantic charades – what’s not to love about those old films in an age where cinema so often takes itself too seriously? Peter Bogdanovich’s She’s Funny That Way attempts to recreate the classic genre for the modern age, resulting in a movie that’s mildly amusing but not particularly memorable.
At the heart of the film is Imogen Poots’ Isabella, a sparkly-eyed actress telling the story of her rise from struggling Brooklyn call girl to hip Hollywood starlet. Izzy recalls how she came to meet Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson), a generous Broadway director who takes a shine to the confident escort and helps turn her life around. This isn’t the first time Arnold has pulled this particular move, seeing himself as a sort of escort saviour and benefactor. He’s been getting away with it too, up until the moment Izzy walks into an audition for his latest play and has to read for a role opposite his wife, Delta (Kathryn Hahn).
In true screwball fashion, Arnold’s deceptions quickly unravel but it’s Izzy’s glamorised version of the narrative – which she recounts to Illeana Douglas’ reporter – that carries the film along. The former escort is an optimist, a dreamer, and she clings to this embellished account of her Hollywood introduction, casually throwing around iconic names like Audrey Hepburn and Lana Turner to add glitz and romanticism to her story.
Though the rags to riches tale doesn’t always succeed in being as funny as it no doubt sounded on paper, there are moments that will raise a few chuckles. Clearly revelling in the farcical nature of the script, the cast deliver their lines with gusto. Imogen Poots is a charming and natural presence, bouncing off the more veteran comedy actors with an ease that negates her age. Owen Wilson puts in a decent yet predictable performance, overshadowed by Kathryn Hahn as his oblivious wife and Jennifer Aniston as the snarky and wildly unprofessional psychiatrist.
It’s a shame that Aniston’s Jane and Rhys Ifans’ brazen thespian, Seth, don’t join forces earlier. Now that’s the sort of unlikely yet strangely likeable duo that screwball comedy was made for. A Jane and Seth spin-off, anyone?
Despite some good performances and some great cameos, She’s Funny That Way doesn’t have a lasting impact, perhaps going some way to explaining its limited release. One of the best moments comes at the very end where it actually plays the original inspiration for Arnold’s ‘squirrel and nuts’ line, a scene from Ernst Lubitsch’s 1946 romantic comedy Cluny Brown. If only Bogdanovich’s film could capture half that Lubitsch magic…