Peter Bogdanovich’s She’s Funny That Way feels so much like a Woody Allen movie that you’d absolutely be forgiven for thinking, if shown it in some sort of secret preview, that it was one. In fact, you’d bet on it – your only obstructing thought being that Woody Allen doesn’t make comedies this enjoyable anymore.
Not that Allen has total dominion over screwball farces set amongst theatre-makers and prostitutes in hotels, restaurants and theatres in Manhattan, but he comes close. Bogdanovich, 76, made Noises Off, They All Laughed and What’s Up, Doc? amongst an eclectic filmography that includes classics (The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon), oddities (At Long Last Love, Saint Jack) and mainstream studio fare (Mask, Daisy Miller). He is the very epitomé of a movie-loving movie-maker, and his acting rap sheet is longer than that for his direction. He is not afraid of homage, and perhaps She’s Funny That Way is indeed an ode to the Woody Allen that gave us Bullets over Broadway, Mighty Aphrodite and Manhattan Murder Mystery.
The plot is ludicrous but fun. A well-meaning film and theatre director (Owen Wilson, casually winning) has a habit of sleeping with escorts then changing their lives by giving them thirty thousand dollars to get out of the game and make a fresh start. The fun begins when his latest charity case turns up the next day to audition for his latest play – and she’s good, indeed the only castable option. Since everyone else in the production is sleeping with each other, with other escorts from the same agency, or wants to do a variant of same, some form of farcical hilarity ensues.
Bear in mind: this is farce, the traditional kind, with co-ordinated hotel doors opening and closing, hiding in closets and behind menus, rival dogs, the whole shebang. It’s very old-fashioned and frequently delightful. As our lead hooker with a heart of thousand-carat gold, Imogen Poots once again reigns supreme, gifting her every scene, line and moment with life, spontaneity, energy and comic precision. She’s a serious star, and I bet Woody’s kicking himself he didn’t cast her first. The huge ensemble cast includes the omnipresent Kathryn Hahn (is there a film or TV show she isn’t in at the moment?), Rhys Ifans (weirdly cast as a movie star sex god), Austin Pendleton doing a Woody Allen, Richard Lewis, Cybill Shepherd looking unrecognisably plain, Jennifer Aniston, Will Forte, Debi Mazar and Illeana Douglas, with cameos and stunt appearances by Tatum O’Neal, Colleen Camp, Michael Shannon, Joanna Lumley and someone else who I’ll let be a surprise.
I laughed out loud a few good times but more importantly had that kind of constant smile that you might get from a silly Chardonnay. Sunny, cheerful and disposable, it’s the kind of film that may not be in vogue, but still works when done by people who know how to do it.