She’s Funny That Way is director Peter Bogdanovich’s new but least convincing stab at breathing life into the screwball comedy genre, those breezy, mile-a-minute, anything goes comedies that helped get movie audiences of the ‘30s and '40s through tough times. Bogdanovich himself has had pretty good success with neo-screwball flicks What’s Up, Doc? and They All Laughed but his winning streak hasn’t held her.
Watching this one, which features such talented types as Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Will Forte, Imogen Poots, Rhys Ifans, and Kathryn Hahn, it’s obvious that Bogdanovich is once again chasing a throwback to the verbally sizzling masterworks of such Golden Age maestros of the ‘30s and ‘40s as Ernst Lubitsch, Preston Sturges, and Howard Hawks. Instead, what he’s delivered feels musty and moth-eaten, barely more than warmed-over late period Woody Allen. Co-written by Louise Stratten and the director of The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon himself, the flick is framed by an interview being given by a Brooklyn call girl/actress (Poots, going way too heavy on the New Yawk-ese) to a supposedly tough journalist (Illeana Douglas) about her life so far and what a muse she has been to talented men. See, she’s been given $30,000 to quit hooking by a Hollywood director (Wilson, in a sputtering haze of a performance) to help her follow her ambition to become a Broadway actress. The following day, guess where our Cinderella girl lands? In an audition for that very same director, that’s who. And she actually bags the co-starring role opposite the director’s wife (Hahn) and her womanizing admirer (Ifans), who saw Poots scamper out of the director’s hotel suite earlier. How a hooker with little or no acting credits lands such an audition, let alone aces it, we’ll leave you to figure out. Anyway, the strained coincidences, complications (and star cameos) pile up. But the laughs don’t. It’s not that anyone in the movie is terrible but it’s not like anybody sparkles or charms, either.
If you’re hungry for a real deal screwball comedy – like, say, Bringing Up Baby, His Girl Friday, It Happened One Night, or The Lady Eve – skip She’s Funny That Way, stay at home, and fire up TCM. Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby.