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.
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.