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Actors Owen Wilson (left), Kathryn Hahn arrive for the premiere of the movie ‘She’s Funny That Way’ at the 71st edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy on Aug 29. (AP)
Bogdanovich’s film star-studded cast ‘She’s Funny’ draws laughs in Venice

 VENICE, Aug 30, (Agencies): A madcap New York drawing-room comedy that played out like a classic Hollywood farce saw “The Last Picture Show” director Peter Bogdanovich in sharp comedic form at the Venice Film Festival on Friday. In “She’s Funny That Way” Bogdanovich, who in the 1970s was part of the “New Hollywood” wave of pioneering directors, has assembled an all-star cast including Imogen Poots as an aspiring actress who says she is a muse but works as a call girl.

Her liaisons weave a spider’s web that nets men, including Owen Wilson, a theatre director who has played the rich “benefactor” to a series of girls over the years. The people revolving around her character eventually crash into each other, to everyone’s huge embarrassment. Jennifer Aniston, as a therapist, gives a refresher course in how to portray the woman scorned once she finds out about her lover’s partners.

Telling who shows up in cameo roles would be a spoiler, but it is all fairly ingenious, as well as preposterous. Bogdanovich, 75, said at a press conference that he had been inspired by classic Hollywood films but also by the 19th-century French farce writer Georges Feydeau whose motto, he said, was “whoever must not come into the room must come into the room”. He also said he’d tried to capture the spirit of Hollywood before it was governed by a system that would not settle for less than huge box-office takes on the opening weekend.
 
“The great days of Hollywood which we remember with (Ernst) Lubitsch and Preston Sturges and Howard Hawks and John Ford and all those great filmmakers, those days are not with us anymore. “Now it’s how do you make $300 million the first weekend. It’s rather depressing, I think we’re in a period of decadence in America.” Screwball comedy was already a retro affair when Peter Bogdanovich mastered it in 1972 with “What’s Up, Doc?”
 
Forty-two years later, that ageless throwback is the standard to which the director aspires in “She’s Funny That Way,” . At once invoking genre forebears like Ernst Lubitsch and contemporaries like Woody Allen, this diverting tale of a Brooklyn girl wreaking havoc among the romantically frustrated cast and crew of a dud Broadway play accumulates the necessary narrative chaos without ever building a full head of comic steam. The diverting result will find a modest audience principally among those old enough to recall Bogdanovich’s glory days.
 
Reference
“She’s Funny That Way” was initially, and more intriguingly, titled “Squirrels to the Nuts,” a reference to an irresistible nugget of do-your-own-thing philosophy from “Cluny Brown,” Lubitsch’s last completed film: “Some people like to feed nuts to the squirrels, but if someone wants to feed squirrels to the nuts, who am I to say nuts to the squirrels?” It’s a line that is also quoted ad nauseam in Bogdanovich and ex-wife Louise Stratten’s script, conceived in the 1990s as a vehicle for Stratten and the late John Ritter. This kind of amorous carousel structure is a favorite of Bogdanovich’s, who has employed it to variable effect across his filmography: “She’s Funny That Way” never swirls with the wistful elegance of 1981’s “They All Laughed” (whose star, Audrey Hepburn, is lovingly referenced in, as well as by, Poots’ character), 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 comedies, even at their daffiest, hum with pointed, perceptive 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. When Aniston’s character complains of her meek other half that playwrights “write plays, they don’t think about life,” it’s hard not to level an equivalent accusation against Bogdanovich and Stratten’s screenplay.
 
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.
 
Jittery
Wilson, working in the same jittery, bewildered register he brought to “Midnight in Paris,” remains about the most amiable star one could ask to play an irredeemable sleazebag. Making more of a meal of her character’s delicious unpleasantness, however, is Aniston, who gleefully fashions Jane as a sociopathic psychotherapist to rival Dr. Fiona Wallice, the recent TV creation of her “Friends” peer Lisa Kudrow. (“I’m not judgmental,” she snaps to one terrified client who has just confessed a crippling romantic fixation.)
 
Aniston and the ever-reliable Hahn may be the chief laugh-getters among the principals, though no ensemble member hits her marks with more riotous precision than British comedienne Lucy Punch, a scream in an all-too-brief bit part as an Eastern European hooker calling on the wrong john. Unfortunately it’s fellow U.K. import Poots, as the film’s ostensible protagonist, who seems somewhat overwhelmed by her co-stars, mugging a little too hard with a mayonnaise-thick Brooklyn accent that never quite convinces; an entirely extraneous framing device that sees her narrating the events years later to Illeana Douglas’ cynical showbiz journalist doesn’t allow her to come any more into focus.
 
Perhaps most disappointing among the film’s shortcomings is its lack of visual panache: Compared with the silky Laszlo Kovacs sheen of “What’s Up, Doc?” (or, of course, the more refined beauty of Bogdanovich’s black-and-white work), the insipid lighting and any-old-how framing cooked up here by d.p. Yaron Orbach hardly seem the work of the same filmmaker. In its best moments, “She’s Funny That Way” defies its careless construction to allow Bogdanovich’s sharper instincts fleetingly through; here’s hoping it’s not another thirteen years before he gets back on the merry-go-round.
 
“Comedies today basically depend a lot on body fluid jokes and vulgarity, and getting your appendage stuck in a zipper,” the 75-year-old director told The Associated Press during an interview in Venice. “It’s easy to get laughs with that kind of stuff because it’s basically shock value. I like character comedy.” “One person’s going out this door, here’s another person — when you’re actually doing it, it does kind of make you funny,” Wilson said. “There’s an excitement where it feels like sports a little bit. “I think it appeals to the little kid in you who likes that kind of performing.”
 
“She’s Funny That Way” is set in an idealized New York where the sun always shines, taxis are always waiting and things generally work out — if not always for the best, at least for the time being. It’s a movie that asks the audience to give in to its rhythms. It asked the same of the cast — and Hahn said they willingly obliged. “It demanded a surrender to a genre that is a little nostalgic,” said the “Parks and Recreation” star. “I just knew it was going to be different comedy muscles. She said there was no time for “loosey-goosey improvisatory discovering. You’ve gotta really nail it because it’s so much about the timing.”
 
If audiences embrace the movie, Bogdanovich’s time may have come again. And in the movies, timing is everything. “A couple of actors have been asked how I direct,” Bogdanovich said. “And Joanna Lumley said, ‘Well, mainly he says faster, darling.’ And it’s true. Pick up the tempo. Frank Capra used to say film slows things down. “So if you play something at a normal speed it will seem slow. Play it at a slightly faster speed and it will seem normal. So if you want to have speed, you’ve got to really speed up.”
 

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