“Odd that along with edgy, ultraviolent dramas and dense, arty auteurist exercises, one of the most divisive of genres, especially in a cinephile crowd such as here in Venice, should be the screwball comedy,” writes Jessica Kiang at the Playlist. “Which is the long way to say that your mileage on the manic, contrived and coincidence-strewn She’s Funny That Way may vary, based on how you feel about the very notion of screwball comedy in which mania, contrivance and coincidence are staple grains. Love it, and you’ll probably find the film a madcap throwback romp; hate it, and it’s a strident, dated bore. And both takes are kind of right, because while on the scale of the genre this one is neither the best nor the worst, it is among the screwballiest. Consider yourself warned.”
Peter Bogdanovich’s first narrative feature in thirteen years, premiering out of competition, has a fan in the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin. She’s Funny That Way turns the “worn-out, dishonest Pretty Woman premise on its head by rewinding cinema to the point where men were the ones who often had to be rescued, from women and themselves: it’s a hysterical screwball fantasia that openly steals from Lubitsch, Hawks, Capra and Sturges and wants to be caught with its fingers in the till. The result is a highly-sexed Jenga-pile of silliness, to which Bogdanovich can’t resist adding block after teetering block.”
It’s “a movie set notionally in the Manhattan of the present day, but behaving as if the action is happening in the 1970s or even the 30s, an impression reinforced by ancestor-worship references to the Hollywood Golden Age,” writes the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw. “There are one or two amiable gags, but it feels musty and dated, with picturesque, golden-hearted hookers embarrassing their well-intentioned clients; there are characters taking what they refer to as ‘long-distance’ telephone calls and screaming fans who surround celebrities with autograph books and pens. This is the kind of movie that Woody Allen has been making annually for years” and “is actually so much like a B-grade Woody Allen picture that you might well assume it is a conscious homage specifically to him, rather than to the 1946 Ernst Lubitsch picture Cluny Brown which provides a recurring dialogue motif.”
Two out of five stars from Geoffrey Macnab in the Independent: “Owen Wilson plays Arnold Albertson, a director who has just arrived on Broadway to stage a play. This will star boorish matinee idol Seth Gilbert (Rhys Ifans) and Albert’s own wife Delta (Kathryn Hann). Albert has a secret. He likes to hire high class call girls… Imogen Poots plays Izzy/Glo, the working class New York girl who ends up in his hotel bedroom and then, by one of the many coincidences in the film, auditions for the play and wins a leading part…. The Italian press at the early screening on Friday enjoyed the film, laughing uproariously at gags that seemed both labored and improbable.”
“She’s Funny That Way never swirls with the wistful elegance of 1981’s They All Laughed,” writes Variety‘s Guy Lodge, “but it certainly has more snap and charm than, say, 1988’s long-forgotten Illegally Yours. What it’s missing, however, is any playful sense of truth: Hollywood’s greatest screwball comedies, even at their daffiest, hum with pointed, perceptive sexual politics. Here, the bumper-car series of romantic collisions is entertaining enough, but viewers aren’t invited to root for any two characters’ union or separation: No relationship in the film is especially distinct from another.”
For the Hollywood Reporter‘s David Rooney, “as gratifying as it would be to report that the effortless touch, the livewire rhythms and the sparkling wit remain in evidence, those qualities prevail only intermittently in this strained though mildly enjoyable ensemble comedy.” More from Mark Adams (Screen), John Bleasdale (CineVue, 4/5) and Michael Roddy (Reuters).
On Sunday, Bill Teck’s One Day Since Yesterday: Peter Bogdanovich & The Lost American Film will screen in the Venice Classics section. The documentary chronicles the making of They All Laughed, which stars Audrey Hepburn, Ben Gazzara—and Dorothy Stratten, with whom Bogdanovich was in love. Before post-production was complete, she was murdered by her estranged husband. In a second blow, the studio balked at releasing the comedy, so Bogdanovich spent a reported $5 million to complete and distribute it himself.
“I lost my mind and then I lost my shirt,” Bogdanovich said today in Venice. As the Guardian‘s Xan Brooks reports, “he regards himself as one of the few surviving links to the golden age of US cinema. ‘When I was younger, all my friends were older,’ he said. ‘John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant. I loved talking to those people. And now they all have passed away. I’ve mourned a lot of friends, much more than I should have at this point in my life. It was a different world. It was a better world.'”
Updates, 8/31: “Jennifer Aniston plays an unbearable shrew, but she does so with enormous aplomb, and coaxes genuine laughs from playing the so-so material to the hilt,” writes Catherine Bray at HitFix. “Owen Wilson and Rhys Ifans are always engaging screen presences, even when tackling thin roles. Imogen Poots works hard to make her Brooklyn call girl with a heart of gold come alive, but the character feels like something dreamt up by someone who really enjoys being agreed with.”
For Time Out‘s Cath Clarke, She’s Funny That Way is “fluffy fun and packed with in-jokes for movie lovers. Bogdanovich’s famous friends and admirers chip in: Wes Anderson is an executive producer; Cybill Shepherd (unforgettable in Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show) plays Izzy’s mum. At one point we even see a clip of Bogdanovich himself on TV in The Sopranos (he played Tony’s shrink’s shrink). And Bogdanovich saves the best to last, with a very funny parting cameo that spins the whole film back on itself.”
Four out of five stars from John Bleasdale at CineVue.
Update, 9/1: For the Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney reviews One Day Since Yesterday, noting that “while there’s no doubting director Bill Teck’s passion for the project, his inexperience as a filmmaker shows in the disorganized, technically rough study, which outstays its usefulness by a good half-hour, loitering over ground already covered.” Still: “A number of influential directors have expressed their admiration for They All Laughed, including Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach and Quentin Tarantino, the latter interviewed here at length. Critics also weigh in—among them the late Andrew Sarris, Molly Haskell and the Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy—with views on how the film fits into Bogdanovich’s extraordinarily cine-literate body of work, sitting right at the tail-end of the New Hollywood wave.”
Update, 9/2: She’s Funny That Way is “my single biggest disappointment at Venice,” writes Alonso Duralde at TheWrap. “I rate the director’s What’s Up, Doc? (another movie co-written by Buck Henry) as one of the great comedies of all time, and his screen adaptation of Noises Off as an above-average movie farce, but here the ingredients steadfastly refuse to whip up into the froth this film so clearly wants to be.”
Update, 9/7: “I couldn’t get past one big, glaring pothole,” writes the Voice‘s Stephanie Zacharek. “Save for one or two very minor characters, there’s not a single person of color in Bogdanovich’s Manhattan. I couldn’t even find one or two dotting the background. Even those of us who love New York, flaws and all, harbor a dream version of it—but if your dream of New York is an all-white one, it’s time you had the sheets yanked from under you.”
Update, 9/8: Variety‘s Guy Lodge on One Day Since Yesterday: “Given some strict cutting, this affectionate, affecting and somewhat overlong niche item would make pleasing arts TV programming.”
Update, 9/10: For the Playlist, Jessica Kiang talks with Owen Wilson and Kathryn Hahn.
Update, 9/12: Jessica Kiang talks with Bogdanovich for the Playlist.
Update, 9/20: “This year was my third participation as a director in the Venice Film Festival, and a great deal of fun,” writes Bogdanovich in a new blog entry.