By: Addison Wylie
Peter Bogdanovich (director of The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon, and What’s Up, Doc?) must have tons of clout. This would explain the overconfidence in his latest film She’s Funny That Way.
This star powered, ode to screwball farces couldn’t help but remind me of when the Farrelly Brothers made a feature-length Three Stooges movie. Bogdanovich has made the movie he wanted to make, but the film itself reinforces that it’s currently hard to make these oddball comedies organic.
Let’s hold onto that cinematic comparison between She’s Funny That Way and The Three Stooges. Both films feature a cast willing to go the lengths to which the filmmaker asks them to go. No one hesitates in their colourful roles, and every player realizes the type of movie they’re making. No matter how shallow it was though, The Three Stooges passed the finish line by the skin of its teeth by keeping the film lively with impressive choreography and a string of cheap chuckles. She’s Funny That Way, despite following its own rules, can’t make the crowd crack a smile.
The movie leans too far into the zaniness, which then imposes itself on the audience in the most grating ways possible. The cast, as talented as they are, play in the same key; as if they’re all too eager to win a scenery-chewing contest. Every on-screen personality wants the audience to know of how despicable or kooky they are. Movie goers take the brunt of the camp and witness a 90-minute gawk-and-yuck fest. The film even has one of those finales where everyone shows up to yell at each other, followed by a groan-inducing cameo.
Imogen Poots (of That Awkward Moment and Need for Speed) is the only one to emerge from the wreckage, having gained some experience. Poots (as a dreamy call girl with dreams of becoming a star) has an alluring, hopeful presence. We stay because of her. Kathryn Hahn is another actress who also has an unmistakable charm to her. She lights up any scene she’s involved in. It’s just disappointing that She’s Funny That Way doesn’t take full advantage of her performing capabilities, and cashes in on how persistent she can be through shrill vocals.
The film may have felt natural during production (maybe not during post-production when drippy title cards and side wipes were added by eye-rolling editors), but Peter Bogdanovich’s farce is insufferably hokey and loud.
Currently, live theatre is the best place to re-capture this energy. The audience Bogdanovich is trying to tap into are willing to buy tickets to extravagant stage shows like these because – like the filmmaker – that crowd wants to relive these same classic chortles, coincidences, and conundrums. A movie – especially nowadays – doesn’t pack the same punch.
Farces may not be dead, but this type of approach is hardly on life support. Most likely, movie goers will be attracted by the stacked cast (filled out by Owen Wilson, Rhys Ifans, Will Forte, and Jennifer Aniston), but the boisterous silliness will be too jarring for them to bear. Meanwhile, the handful of patrons who may find themselves amused with She’s Funny That Way will wish they could skip forward to the screen-to-stage adaptation.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie