In ANYTHING ELSE, Jerry Falk (Jason Biggs), an aspiring writer, falls in love with Amanda, a comically neurotic, manipulative actress (Christina Ricci), who hooks him by overt seduction and keeps him on the line by withholding sex. As Jerry’s frustration grows, so does the complexity of her avoidance techniques. Mix in a clingy hack agent, Harvey (Danny DeVito), Amanda’s boozy mother, Paula (Stockard Channing), and, of course, Woody Allen presiding over all as Jerry’s slightly paranoid advisor. The results are chaotic and often humorous.
ANYTHING ELSE fits solidly into the Woody Allen stable of philosophical romantic comedies, but includes a fresh twist. Allen often plays a schnook in love, ranting sardonically to an empty universe. In recent films, though, this Allen staple has challenged audience credibility, especially as his paramours seemed to grow younger as he aged. In ANYTHING ELSE, Allen enlists Jason Biggs to play his customary role, while Allen plays David Dobel, a world-weary and wisecracking schoolteacher. In this guise, Allen gets to propound his worldview directly. Dobel becomes a mentor and guide for Jerry, showering him with enigmatic pontifications such as, “work gives the illusion of meaning, sex gives the illusion of continuity,” and “your shrink, like God, never speaks, like God, is dead,” and the title line that “life is mysterious, just like ‘anything else.'” Jerry’s increasing frustration and unhappiness with Amanda cause him to be especially susceptible to Dobel’s influence, even to the point of purchasing a rifle and assembling a survival kit against unspecified “anti-Semitic” forces. For all of his philosophical detachment, Dobel is a violent paranoid.
While Jerry tries to make sense of Dobel’s pronouncements, he is consumed by jealousy, especially because Amanda seems receptive to all advances but his. When he finally lures her into a liaison, she suffers an anxiety attack and rushes to the hospital, only to flirt shamelessly with the examining physician. Jerry and Amanda’s shared apartment becomes a tense place. The tension increases when Amanda’s mother moves in and hounds Jerry to write material for her nightclub comeback. To add to Jerry’s angst, his agent, Harvey, seeks to renew his contract, as Jerry is his only client. Jerry is torn between obligation and his aspirations as a novelist and playwright. No wonder he covets Jean Paul Sartre’s NO EXIT as a birthday gift.
New York City is a supporting character in ANYTHING ELSE. Allen frames scenes with beautiful shots of Central Park, the city skyline, and sidewalk cafes in which everyone is witty and nobody works. The production quality of ANYTHING ELSE matches the high standards of MANHATTAN and EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU, and the musical score is heavily laced with classic jazz, a passion for Allen.
Jason Biggs gamely tackles Woody Allen’s traditional role as lovesick nihilist, even taking on the Allenesque task of narrating directly into the camera. Sadly, Biggs is no Woody Allen, and comes across simply as a confused schlemiel. His commentary lacks Allen’s wry humor. In some scenes with Allen, Biggs seems to be simply reading his lines, as if thrown off balance by the rhythm of Allen’s patter.
The rest of the cast is marvelous. Christina Ricci inhabits Amanda and the audience cannot wait to see what curves she will throw the hapless Jerry. At the beginning of their relationship, she tells Jerry, “I’ve had a crush on you since we first met. Couldn’t you tell by the way I ignored you?” Danny DeVito is funny as Harvey, Jerry’s clinging, desperate manager, and Stockard Channing is perfect as Paula, Amanda’s boozy and co-dependent mother. Jimmy Fallon is underutilized as Amanda’s boyfriend, Bob.
ANYTHING ELSE is typical, if amusing, Woody Allen fare. Allen continues to confuse sex for love and rage against a God that he claims does not exist. Early in the movie, Dobel refers to God as the “giant so what.” He still has no solution to his persistent questions about “man’s fate in an empty universe – no God, no hope.” As a result, his characters spend their days coupling and uncoupling, manipulating and hurting one another, drinking and taking drugs, and wondering what it is all about. Allen paints a bleak and uninviting picture of a universe without God, and his humor is little solace when facing the void. Characters delivering lines like “I’d commit suicide, but I’ve got so many problems it wouldn’t solve them all” elicit many chuckles, but do not mask the horror of the world Allen envisions. After all, an existentialist, even a funny one, is only a cowardly nihilist.
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SUMMARY: Jason Biggs stars in ANYTHING ELSE, by Woody Allen, as an aspiring writer who falls in love with a comically neurotic, manipulative actress, played by Christina Ricci. ANYTHING ELSE is classic Woody Allen, but it’s a sad commentary on life in a universe without God and without hope.
(HHH, Ro, PC, AP, LLL, SS, N, A, DD, AP) Philosophical focus of film is very strong humanist existentialism, with one character strongly nihilistic, main characters driven by emotion and desire, and politically correct elements where four characters oppose gun ownership by Americans; three obscenities and 29 profanities (some as exclamations); no violence; four scenes of couple kissing passionately or in bed together covered by sheets, and frequent frank discussions of sexuality; several scenes of main character in tight shirt and panties, bra and panties, and tight clothing; eight scenes of social drinking-beer, wine, liquor; one scene of illegal drug use-cocaine and numerous scenes of one character smoking; and, miscellaneous immorality such as manipulation.
GENRE: Romantic Comedy