She's Funny That Way

SHE'S FUNNY THAT WAY. Starring: Imogen Poots, Owen Wilson, Kathryn Hahn, Jennifer Aniston, Will Forte, and Rhys Ifans. Directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Rated M (Mature themes and coarse language). 93 min.

This American comedy is about a successful stage director, who mounts a new play on Broadway, and finds out that a call girl, for whom he has been a client, turns up for a part in it. The call-girl joins the cast with the wife he is unfaithful to, and his wife's ex-lover.

The situations in this film provide an enormously complicated set of relationship entanglements.

Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson) is the Director of the play, "A Grecian Evening", and he is married to Delta Simmons (Kathryn Hahn), who had a past affair with Seth Gilbert (Rhys Ifans) - Delta stars in Arnold's play, and Seth is in the same production. Unbeknown to Delta, Arnold was using the escort services of Isabella Beatty (Imogen Poots), who ends up with the role of a call-girl in the play. Isabella is seeing a psychologist, Jane Claremont (Jennifer Aniston), whose boyfriend is Joshua Fleet (Will Forte), who is the person who actually wrote Arnold's play. While Joshua is dating Jane, he develops a crush on Isabella, and he is the son of a detective hired by a senior judge, also using Isabella as a call girl, to track Isabella's daily and nightly movements. Jane finally ends up with Seth, when Delta learns that Seth is using call girls, just like her husband.

Arnold has hired a long list of sex-industry workers before Isabella, and Isabella is stunned when Arnold offers her $30k to stop her current work and do something more inspiring of her choosing. He has done that with other call-girls. She accepts his offer, and auditions for Arnold's play without realising Arnold is directing it.

Most good Directors would have a great deal of trouble with a plot as contrived as this one. This movie attempts to tie all its threads together, and appeals to "light fantasy" to justify the looseness.

The film depicts a hurly-burly of sexual politics and relationship absurdities, and it doesn't take time out to think about the real nature of any of the connections. An energetic cast tries to work with zany material. Most of the relationships in the film are decidedly immoral, and Peter Bogdanovich, the Director of the movie, presents none of them as attachments worth exploring. There is a pro-social message lying somewhere in Arnold's efforts to rescue prostitutes from their current work to get their lives back on the straight and narrow (after their services are used). The movie "Pretty Woman" did that much better back in 1990.

The main people on the comedy side in this movie are an angry Kathryn Hahn, and a cynical Jennifer Aniston. Aniston vividly takes the part of a terror-professional. She plays a sociopathic psychologist in this film, as she did a nymphomaniac dentist in "Horrible Bosses" (2011). Here, she wreaks havoc on hapless victims in a totally insensitive way, but her role as Jane is caricatured. The only vital, realistic presence in this movie is Imogen Poots, as Isabella.

The film aims for farce. It relies very heavily on situational comedy, and ends up offering a wild ride through incredible relationship scenarios. The film is full of adulterous affairs, and it doesn't attempt to work through any of them by developing its plot, or its characters, in any systematic dramatic way. If one approaches the movie by looking out for people caught up in bizarre, immoral situations with a vague Pygmalion touch, there is comedy to be found lying in the mix. But the film's overarching message is shallow and superficial, and the movie fails to deliver on the theme that it espouses - which relates, in turn, to the title of the movie: "wherever you're happy, that is your place."

Essentially, the film tries to extract laughter from a wide range of comic misunderstandings, and aims at nostalgia intended to titillate. In so doing, it lacks the distinctive style of Bogdanovich's "What's Up, Doc" (1972), and his wonderful "The Last Picture Show" (1971). It presents a random collection of relationship moments built around coincidences expected to amuse. Those moments are delivered vigorously by an ensemble cast that appreciates good comic timing, but viewers are exposed to them in a film that ultimately disappoints.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Walt Disney Studios

Released August 27th., 2015


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