There are aficionados of Woody Allen’s work, though I think his reputation has been marred somewhat in recent years. I would not call myself among their number, although this has nothing to do with him marrying his adopted daughter. Strange, but that describes most people in Hollywood. The simple reason I am not a big fan of his movies is that I do not find them all that entertaining. The one exception is Anything Else (2003).
I enjoy Anything Else partly because it is about a writer, an endeavor to which I have aspired at various times and forms over the years. The writer in question, who narrates his life for the audience, is Jerry Falk (Jason Biggs). He is completely hung up on his girlfriend, Amanda Chase (Christina Ricci). Their relationship, though, is a constant source of anxiety for Jerry. They first met while he was dating somebody else, and ended up cheating on his then-current beau with Amanda. Always a great way to get involved with another person. Soon after their dalliance she moves into his apartment and the fun really begins. As he relates at the outset, she is always late and drives him crazy. But she is a “knock out,” as he puts it, and thus is willing to tolerate her behavior. His patience is tested further when she announces that her mother, Paula Chase (Stockard Channing), will be moving into their confined space. If Amanda is mercurial, Paula is that but with the haughtiness of age. Helping Jerry to deal with the emotional roller coaster of his home life is David Dobel (Woody Allen), a more seasoned fellow comedy writer. They often meet in Central Park to discuss their craft and David is forever sharing his insights into life. Eventually, David offers Jerry a chance to be a part of a team to write for a sitcom, a job that would require them to move to Los Angeles. In going to Amanda to break the news to her that he is going to leave for the Pacific coast, Jerry is told that she needs to break up with him because she has begun seeing somebody else. But, of course, her mother has to stay there for a little while longer. Now that their relationship is over, she proposes one last passionate moment between the two of them, which has been one of the other issues plaguing them. However, on the eve of their departure, David reveals that he has shot a cop who (ever suspicious of latent anti-semitism in society) he felt pushed him the wrong way during a routine traffic stop. The film ends with Jerry in a cab, floored by recent events, headed to the airport. When the driver takes note Jerry’s discomfiture, Jerry waves off the concern by saying he was just thinking about how crazy is life. The cabbie comes back with, “You know, it’s like anything else.”
I enjoy Anything Else not only in how I identify with a struggling writer (though not with every aspect of Jerry’s character), but for the tour-de-force of the English language on display. Remember how I described Amanda as “mercurial?” I borrowed that from David who, in trying to get Jerry to move away from New York, describes the young woman as a, “mercurial jitterbug.” There is more. Amanda refers to David as a “polymath,” a nod to the elder scribe’s vast vocabulary. It also contains one of my favorite jokes of all time. In yet another session amongst New York’s famous greenery, Jerry is once more waxing philosophical to David about the insanity of his life. Jerry makes some reference to science, to which David comes back with, “You think quantum physics has the answer? I mean, you know, what purpose does it serve for me that time and space are exactly the same thing? I mean I ask a guy what time it is, and he tells me six miles? What the hell is that?”
What I do not like about Anything Else is most of the characters. Jerry redeems himself somewhat. Though this is far from his thoughts, Christian dating can be a tricky thing. The stereotype is that followers of Jesus get married early without much thought and pump out an army of babies in subsequent years. Those who really listen to their priests (or pastors) know that it is best to take your time with dating, particularly when you are young. The word that is most often used is discernment. In Catholicism, the Faithful are called to have a period in their lives when they ponder the vocation to which God is calling them. Those that jump to conclusions with such undertakings are risking a lifetime of heartache. One need only look at the current divorce rate for further proof. In this sense, Anything Else is a cautionary tale. Jerry jumps into his relationship with Amanda with little forethought, simply taken in by her dusky gaze. Eventually, though, he realizes his mistake and is ready to move on to pursue his true calling.
Anything Else is a funny little movie, and good date night material. As alluded to above, Jerry and Amanda do not lead the kind of life a Christian couple should, and they revel in pre-marital sex. No nudity, thankfully. But you could definitely do worse than this little known entry in the Woody Allen library. And if you love a soundtrack full of Billie Holiday melodies, this is the film for you.