Film Length: 109 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Audio: DD Mono
Retail Price: $26.95
Upfront I must admit to being a die-hard Woody Allen fan. I saw my first Allen film when I was around ten and I was immediately hooked from the start. While not the greatest film ever made, Annie Hall is perhaps my favorite film ever made. Over the past decade Allen has had a few gems like Everyone Says I Love You but overall fans have been hoping Woody could return to top form. Allen’s previous two films, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion and Hollywood Ending featured a few good moments but overall they weren’t anything special.
This bittersweet romantic comedy tells the story of two comedy writers—one a young up and comer who just can’t catch a break and the other an older man who seems to have all the answers to life yet he’s no better off than he was forty-years earlier. Jerry Falk (Jason Biggs) is the younger guy who is having a hard time in life due to his sexually challenged girlfriend Amanda (Christina Ricci) who is constantly popping pills and overeating, although she’s constantly talking about being overweight. The two have been dating for years, even after Amanda cheating on Jerry but the relationship goes into a bigger test with Amanda’s mother (Stockard Channing) moves in with them.
While on an audition with his agent (Danny DeVito), Jerry meets a strange older man named David Dobel (Woody Allen) who seems to be the smartest guy in New York City. The two constantly meet up in Central Park to talk about everything from the Nazis to women and how the two have several things in common. These chats pretty much have Jerry talking about his problems and then David jumping in to give him lessons on life. As the two become closer friends David tries talking his younger friend into leaving his agent, his girlfriend and his life, moving to California to make a clean start.
Anything Else isn’t the comic masterpiece I was praying for but I must say this is certainly Allen’s best film since the mid 90’s and the screenplay here is perhaps his best written since the 1970’s. The movie works on so many levels that it’s rather refreshing to just sit back and listen to the actor’s deliver the wonderful dialogue, which is something sorely missing from most Hollywood productions these days. To me, Anything Else comes off as a greatest hits package from Allen because there’s certainly nothing original here yet the actors play everything out so wonderfully that it’s like were seeing this stuff for the first time.
In a lot of ways I saw this film as an updated version of Annie Hall and it’s pretty clear that Briggs is playing Woody Allen while Ricci is playing Diane Keaton. We also get a lot of familiar scenes dealing with relationships going back due to some sort of sexual problem. There’s a wonderful scene in a fancy motel where Ricci has a panic attack because the lights are too bright and she can’t perform sex. There’s another wonderful scene where she discusses cheating as a way to get better for the man she really loves, that being Jerry of course.
There are many wonderful comic moments coming from the dialogue but there’s also a strange undertone, which is very dark. This comes from Woody Allen’s David character who is a supporting one but for some reason Allen isn’t digging into the jokes as much as we’re used to seeing. Allen certainly delivers many laughs but they are all nervous laughs because like Jerry, we can see through David and tell he has many mental problems. Everything he says, while realistic, at the same times comes off very creepy and this here is something I didn’t expect from Allen. The comedic side of Allen is something we’ve seen many times but I was pleasantly happy to see this darker character proving that Allen can do more than tell jokes.
Christina Ricci turns in another wonderful performance and pretty much steals the entire film. I’ve already mentioned the wonderful hotel scene but there are other moments, which show Ricci is a wonderful comedic actress as well as a wonderful dramatic actress. Again, this is a darker female character than we’re used to seeing in an Allen comedy and it certainly helps that Ricci brought so much to the role. Stockard Channing is very good as the loser mother who keeps screwing up so much that the daughter is pretty much the mother of the relationship. Then there’s Danny DeVito in a small role, which should get him an Oscar nomination, although he’ll probably be overlooked.
The main problem I had with the film was Jason Biggs. Although there’s nothing bad with his performance, I think Allen should have done a little better job directing him. As I mentioned earlier there’s no doubt that Biggs is playing Woody Allen and this here simply doesn’t work. He tries to stutter like Allen and he tries to use body language like Allen but none of it comes off very well. While watching him I couldn’t help but think that the role should have been played by Allen and Biggs was only there because he was young enough. Again, he isn’t bad in the role but trying to copy a comedic legend is a hard thing to do and Biggs just wasn’t able to pull it off.
Anything Else was a major bomb at the box office, only making a little over three million, which is a real shame. Since Allen’s previous two films bombed I guess Dreamworks wanted to promote this film to the younger crowd instead of Allen fans and apparently this backfired. I’ve heard many people write this film off due to the poor box office but to me, this is just another example of a film being too intelligent to hit a cord with a mainstream audience wanting something from Britney Spears or Mandy Moore. Anything Else isn’t a classic but it’s refreshing enough that everyone should give it a second chance on DVD.
VIDEO---The movie is shown widescreen (2.35:1) and is enhanced for 16x9 TVs. Dreamworks once again comes through with a brilliant transfer that has no faults to talk about. The film was shot with very low colors and this comes off wonderfully here especially all the scenes inside the park. The black level is very strong and the natural colors come off looking remarkably fresh. There’s a soft look to the film but this is how its supposed to look so don’t blame the transfer.
AUDIO---Being a good ol’ Woody Allen film we are given a Dolby Digital Mono track, which is rather refreshing for a current film. I really hope no one bashing the studio for not creating a fake 5.1 mix for this release because the Mono is perfectly fine and sounds just as wonderful as most of those other 5.1 tracks for dialogue driven films. The dialogue is crystal clear and pack a nice little punch. There’s no hiss or scratches to be heard and the music score shines as well.
EXTRAS---We are given cast bios, production notes and a theatrical trailer. This is an Allen film so the lack of extras is to be expected.
OVERALL---This wasn’t the masterpiece I was hoping for but Woody Allen strikes back with a cute little gem, which manages to have a darker side than most films of its type. Dreamworks delivers a very nice DVD with a wonderful transfer and a terrific Mono soundtrack, which is something I really miss on newer films. If you’re an Allen fan the film and disc are certainly worth checking out.
Release Date: December 23, 2003