We gave it a C-
Funny as in ha-ha? Sadly, no. She’s pretty much a turkey, actually, and even a stacked cast—Jennifer Aniston, Owen Wilson, Rhys Ifans, Kathryn Hahn, Will Forte—can’t rescue director Peter Bogdanovich’s overcooked giblets.
The movie’s stars, along with co-executive producers Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, must have signed on at least in part to work with the inconsistent but much-admired auteur behind ’70s new-cinema classics like The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon. (He appears a lot more often in acting roles these days than in the director’s chair; the last feature film Bogdanovich helmed, not counting 2007’s well-received Tom Petty documentary Runnin’ Down a Dream, was the flawed but thoroughly watchable period drama The Cat’s Meow in 2001.) She’s Funny That Way is posted as a love letter to the classic screwball comedies of Hollywood’s golden age, but delivers ersatz Woody Allen instead; it’s like Bullets Over Broadway minus the mob plot and 90 percent of the charm.
The elfin British actress Imogen Poots (28 Weeks Later) stars as Izzy Finkelstein, a pretty call girl with a heart whose metal you can probably guess and a mile-wide “Brooklyn” accent seemingly borrowed from a 1930s gun moll. Providence lands her in the Manhattan hotel room of a shaggy-haired Hollywood director named Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson), a born—or maybe “serial” is a better word—romantic who offers to give her $30,000 free and clear to leave hooking behind and pursue her dream of treading the boards. She departs his suite with a few hours of fond memories and a five-figure nest egg, only to find at her next day’s audition—because what prostitute with a fifth-rate agent doesn’t get called in for a major role in a Broadway play?—that it’s Albertson’s project. And also that his actress wife Delta (Kathryn Hahn) will be her costar, along with the rakish, perpetually be-scarved movie star Seth Gilbert (Rhys Ifans), who is in love with Delta and definitely saw Izzy leaving Arnold’s hotel room the night before.
Hilarity doesn’t ensue, though a maddening tangle of wild coincidences does—mostly involving Jennifer Aniston as an abrasive, badly wigged (in both senses) psychiatrist, Will Forte as a hapless playwright, and Austin Pendleton as an obsessive elderly client unwilling to let Izzy quit the business. None of the acting is terrible, per se, aside from Poots’ My Cousin Vinny-isms; it’s just incurably broad. Wilson mostly flails and stutters, while Aniston narrows her eyes and spits invective and Ifans does his naughty-pirate thing. Only Hahn seems to fight for nuance in dialogue that rarely allows it.
But if you can let go of the massive holes in logic and general dustiness of the plot (cell phones exist, but rarely get used; landline confusion reigns), it’s fun just to count up the cameos: Debi Mazar, Ileana Douglas, and Cybill Shepard get a few more substantial moments of screen time, while names like Michael Shannon, Tovah Feldshuh, Tatum O’Neill, Graydon Carter, Lucy Punch, Joanna Lumley, and Fun Home star Sydney Lucas go by faster than you can say “SAG card”; basically, if there’s an incidental waiter or bellhop or Macy’s security guard in the shot, odds are they have half an EGOT at home.
It’s not a spoiler to say that the movie ends with a vintage film clip from a 1946 Ernst Lubitsch film called Cluny Brown that fizzes with exactly the kind of crisp urbanity Bogdanovich is trying to reproduce here. The scene proves that his muse was worthwhile, but mostly it serves as an excellent reminder that you could go straight to the source and spend a lazy afternoon with AMC Classics instead. C–