The last film that was released depicting the inner workings of an all-star theatre production gearing up for a run on Broadway was Birdman, which picked up the award for Best Picture at the Oscars. However, while Peter Bogdanovich’s latest feature She’s Funny That Way may not be as innovative a piece, and revels far more predominantly in the farcical elements, it’s arguably, and rather surprisingly, the more entertaining of the two.
Imogen Poots plays Isabella Patterson, a call-girl and wannabe actress, who heads to an audition for the lead role in a forthcoming stage production. However when she arrives she realises that the director, Arnold Albertson (Owen Wilson) is a customer of hers, and given the fact his wife Delta Simmons (Kathryn Hahn) is involved in the project, he’d rather not have two confront one another. But Isabella’s audition is flawless, and she’s given the role – much to the pleasure of extravagant actor Seth Gilbert (Rhys Ifans) who is aware of his director’s little secret, and wants to use it to his advantage, as he’s still in love with Delta. Add to this an enraged therapist, Jane (Jennifer Aniston) who is counselling Isabella, while she also happens to be dating the writer of the play that’s being put on (Will Forte), who in turn is falling for his new leading lady – and you’ve got yourselves one hell of a screwball comedy.
There’s an affectionate, old-fashioned feeling to this charming piece of cinema, that revels in the genre conventions with a knowing wink. It’s also more inclusive than Birdman was, being not just a big Hollywood in-joke, but instead peering into the industry from the outside perspective, allowing us in, as we play up to and having with the stereotypes surrounding the behind-the-scenes world, the glitz, the glamour, and the notion that everybody is just sleeping with everybody else. There’s a plethora of exaggerated, overstated characters too, crafted in such a way that it allows the various, talented performers the license to be as over-the-top as they wish. Poots is guilty of doing so throughout her career, even when the role doesn’t require such an approach – but in this instance her overacting is perfectly in tune with the tone and spirit of the piece.
A juggling act of the highest order, this convoluted, complex narrative has so many conflicting story-lines, as we interweave seamlessly between them all – but that’s exactly the point, and the comedy derives from this madcap approach. But amidst the plate spinning is a certain charm and affability, and while a film that won’t necessarily make you think, sometimes it’s that ability to turn your brain off and immerse yourself in something so endearingly frivolous, which can make a trip to the cinema such good fun.