Peter Bogdanovich has never been cagey about his fondness for Hollywood’s golden age; although a former critic, he approaches the films of Ernst Lubitsch and Howards Hawks as a disciple bent on reviving their bygone spirit rather than taking them apart and rebuilding them for a new era. Reviews for “She’s Funny That Way,” his first movie since 2001’s “The Cat’s Meow,” veer in opposite directions according to how taken a particular critic is with that strategy: Some find it woefully anachronistic and sadly out-of-touch; others are taken with Bogdanovich’s fond recreation. If the movie seems dated, it’s in part because the script, originally titled “Squirrels to the Nuts,” goes back 15 years; it was written for with, and for, Bogdanovich’s then-wife, Louise Stratten, with the late John Ritter envisioned as the male lead. Now it’s been revived with Owen Wilson and Imogen Poots, though some reviewers think it should have stayed in a drawer.
Reviews of “She’s Funny That Way”
Jessica Kiang, Playlist
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. Which is the long way round to go 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 pretty much 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.
David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
The director’s first feature since “The Cat’s Meow” 13 years ago, marks a nostalgic return to the classic screwball comedy and light-hearted romance that he channeled in films from the smash “What’s Up, Doc?” to the underrated “They All Laughed.” But 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.
David Sexton, Evening Standard
Almost everything about this boded ill. But it’s an absolute riot, a triumph, a retro screwball comedy that easily matches the classics of the genre. Imogen Poots, glorious, despite the kind of New York accent your friends might manage, plays Izzy, a callgirl given $30,000 by bighearted mogul Owen Wilson after their night together to allow her to follow her dreams as an actress. Next day she turns up to audition for his new play, starring his wife (Kathryn Hahn) and his dirty-dog pal Seth (Rhys Ifans) — and the preposterous entanglements that follow are concocted with fantastic ingenuity.
Guy Lodge, Variety
This lack of depth even by the standards of a flighty genre would matter less if the film were more consistently hilarious. For every comic zinger or setpiece that lands just right, there’s at least one other that falls ever so slightly behind the beat: It’s telling, moreover, that the film’s defining one-liner had to be lifted from another movie. It’s perhaps easier to blame any rhythmic deficiencies on Bogdanovich’s forgivable rustiness — this is, after all, the first theatrical feature he has directed since 2001’s “The Cat’s Meow” — than the high-energy efforts of the cast, most of whom are doing their best by the material.
Mark Adams, Screen Daily
The film’s interweaving story of romantic misadventures, happy hookers, obsessed old men and privileged showbiz types does feel like familiar classic Hollywood comedy fare, which of course isn’t a bad thing at all. Plus Bogdanovich smartly keeps the pace up, means there is no time to focus on the more preposterous aspects. Instead the focus is on easy laughs, smart lines, nice performances and a freewheeling sense of fun.
John Bleasdale, CineVue
The seasoned comic performers — Aniston, Hahn, Ifyans and Wilson et al. — grab their parts with both hands and squeeze there for all their worth. Meanwhile, British actress Poots goes full Brooklyn and more than holds her own, proving herself a dab hand at comedy in the process. It may be stuck in the past, with its hoary clichés about the call girl with the heart of gold and the incurable romantic, but the whole thing fizzes with such joie de vivre that the anachronisms only add to its overwhelming charm.
Peter Bradshaw, Guardian
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 it is bathed in that distinctive orangey-yellow light that you find in the kind of venerable luxury hotel lobby where Allen found locations for movies like” Midnight in Paris” and “To Rome with Love.”
Jo-Ann Titmarsh, Hey U Guys
There is much to remind us of early Woody Allen films here, from the music to the repartee, but really Bogdanovich is taking us further back, and it is this that makes the film so appealing. We are not asked to analyse why a character behaves in a certain way, we are just required to sit back and enjoy seeing that character try to extricate themselves from a tricky situation. Yet there is nothing tricky about Bogdanovich’s directing: he’s treading familiar ground, but we are happy to tread that ground with him for an hour and a half.
Geoffrey Macnab, Independent
There are some genuinely funny performances here (notably from Jennifer Aniston as an abrasive, foul mouthed therapist with a compulsion to share intimate details about her clients) and the tone of the film is nothing if not good natured. The problem is an absurdly contrived and flimsy screenplay and a storytelling tempo that doesn’t come near to the breakneck pace of the similarly themed “Birdman.”
Robbin Collin, Telegraph
Bogdanovich’s film turns that 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.
Alonso Duralde, the Wrap
From its “Ninotchka”-inspired opening title cards, “She’s Funny” aspires to old-school screwball, much in the same way that “What’s Up, Doc?” did so successfully. But despite the farcical set-ups (involving adjoining hotel rooms, private detectives, and a brusque, busybody therapist played with aching exaggeration by Jennifer Aniston), there’s very little here that brings the funny.