The Young and the Damned

Sturm und drang: Biggs in Anything Else
photo: Brian Hamill

The post-teen rom-com is a desperate business in woeful need of intelligent resources, but after beholding Woody Allen's Anything Else and Deepa Mehta's Bollywood/Hollywood, you may conclude that its day has come and finally gone. Equipped with a title that (as a question) we've been asking of Woody Allen movies for well over a decade, Anything Else is the filmmaker's rote potshot at mixing twentysomethings into his aging fan base. Who knows what sense an American Pie-digging, Woodman-ignorant undergrad might make of the canned rhythms, the trilobite-era one-liners, the awkward declarative dialogue, the Catskills-resort frames of reference, the freshman philosophy. (Recall that, as of Wild Man Blues, Soon-Yi still hadn't seen Annie Hall.) The rest of us are staring at a bowl of the same borscht we've already slurped up some 20 times; an infinitely running spool of Allenian repetitions could serve as entertainment in a relatively mild circle of the Inferno, where Complacent Middle-Aged Urbanites go when they die.

I have a friend who insists Allen should make a western, if only because the demands of genre might force the birth of new ideas. His movies do create and service an innovation-free comfort zone that makes most TV sitcoms seem adventurous. This lap around the track, we can be thankful Allen doesn't hook himself up with Christina Ricci's bush-baby-eyed flibbertigibbet. Instead, he's the dyspeptic, nearly doddering advisor to Jason Biggs's clingy, good-hearted young comedy writer, who cannot understand why his impulsive sexpot of a girlfriend keeps sleeping with other men and not him. Much is made of the hero's need for dependencies (including a useless psychotherapist with a leather couch, and an old-school, hard-sell manager played by Danny DeVito), but for the most part the cast strains too hard, as always, to ape Allen's delivery tics (if only sui generis line-reader Christopher Walken would guest-appear). Many scenes, like a protracted hullabaloo about a surplus rifle and a piano, don't even have a point or a punchline.

There are a few grace notes—Stockard Channing purring out a lovely Peggy Lee tune, Darius Khondji's candle-warm shooting of Ricci's almost hentai-esque fleshiness, Allen's consideration of Ricci's man-eater as a "hormonal jitterbug who'll have you holding up filling stations to keep her on mood elevators." Otherwise, you could write it yourself from memory.


Anything Else
Written and directed by Woody Allen
DreamWorks, in release

Written and directed by Deepa Mehta
Magnolia, opens September 26, Angelika

Even more self-conscious and reliant on cliché, Deepa Mehta's Bollywood/Hollywood vies for an ironic tone as it incarnates timeworn Bombay-programmer set pieces and plot contrivances into an American milieu. But the result is a film without a nation, without any comic grace, and often without even the slimmest technical efficiency. The plot—a browbeaten young millionaire pays a possibly Hispanic-passing-for-Indian escort to pose as his fiancée so his family will allow his younger sister to marry—is built to bore, and so Mehta packs the film with witless cross-cultural in-jokes: a cranky grandmother who ceaselessly quotes Shakespeare, slow and cheap musical numbers that wouldn't make it into a Hicksville home movie (how Bollywood is a conga line?), a young desi middle-schooler who snottily videotapes every family spat. Too amateurish to lampoon or evoke either film industry, Bollywood/Hollywood is a movie that owes its presence in theaters to a certain ethnic soccer comedy still circulating like a virus.

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