Woody Allen movies have lately been high-concept comedies that, despite not meeting the level of Allen's work of old, occasionally hit some high notes ("Hollywood Ending"). So, it comes as a surprise that Allen's latest film, "Anything Else", recalls Allen's more simple, straightforward relationship comedy/dramas. It is also no surprise that this is no "Manhattan" or "Annie Hall".
The film stars Jason Biggs as Jerry, a young, up-and-coming comedy writer who is in a relationship with Amanda (Christina Ricci). He's needy and neurotic, she's shrill, demanding, addicted to pills and deeply neurotic. So, in Allen's world, these two make the perfect couple. The film's main plot involves watching the two meet, fall for one another, and then how things begin to fall apart as the two can't seem to work out their intimacy issues (read: she won't sleep with him anymore, yet sleeps with another guy to prove to herself that she's not "frigid").
Meanwhile, Jerry finds something of a mentor in David Dobel (Allen), a teacher and fellow comedy writer who was once psychotic and still may be. He spends the middle of the film trying to convince Jerry to build up a survival kit in his apartment to protect himself from "these troubled times", then tries to convince him to dump Amanda and move with him to Los Angeles for a sitcom gig. Is there anything else to the plot? Not really, aside from the fact that Amanda's pushy, addict, aspiring-singer mother Paula (Stockard Channing) barges her way into the couple's already small studio apartment, dragging a piano in behind her.
The picture has several issues. Firstly, Allen has made Amanda so shrill and unlikable that most normal men would have run for the hills - not only is what turned Amanda cold to Jerry never explained, it's never believable that he'd stay around. The combination of Paula and Amanda aren't only an issue for Jerry, but for the audience - both otherwise exceptionally talented actresses turn these characters into such grating ones that their scenes are a chore to sit through. As for Biggs, he makes a decent attempt to try and copy Allen's delivery, but it's a pale effort - while he gets the neurotic part down right, his delivery and timing aren't great and he often simply fades into the background. Scenes where he has to stop and talk to the camera are particularly forced and almost painful. Danny Devito and Jimmy Fallon do alright in minor roles. The film's most amusing element is how Allen has stolen all (literally) the good lines for himself, as he's the only one who gets the film's memorable one-liners.
Looking back, it would be hard to notice that this is a Woody Allen movie if Allen himself wasn't in it (Allen was noticably absent from the majority of the film's advertisements). Although there are some moments of classic Allen-esque discussions of life and relationships throughout "Anything Else", these moments are few-and-far-between. The rest of "Anything Else", unfortunately, seems a lot like everything else out there.
VIDEO: "Anything Else" is presented by Dreamworks in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Shot by skilled DP Darius Khondji, this is one of Allen's rare 2.35:1 films. Although the film doesn't show off New York City as well as most of his films do, there are still some lovely moments scattered throughout. This is also an excellent transfer, as I thought the movie looked better on DVD than it did theatrically. Sharpness and detail appeared terrific throughout the presentation, as fine detail was apparent in all but a couple of very dimly-lit sequences.
Colors looked cleaner and warmer than I remember them looking theatrically. The darker browns and other tones of Amanda and Jerry's apartment looked richer and more pleasing this time around. The only flaws were a couple of light instances of edge enhancement and a trace or two of compression artifacts. Neither took away from what was otherwise a very pleasing presentation.
SOUND: "Anything Else" is presented, as are all of Allen's films, in mono. While the audio seemed a tad cleaner and a tiny bit more dynamic than most of the mono soundtracks for Allen's films, there's still very little going on here.
EXTRAS: Production notes.
Final Thoughts: "Anything Else" has a few moments, but it's both nowhere near what Allen once was capable of and not even as entertaining as some of his lesser, more recent efforts. The DVD provides very good picture quality, satisfactory audio and next-to-nothing in the way of supplements. A rental for Allen fans.