It’s no secret that Woody Allen’s movies are typically brimming with neuroses. So it’s no surprise that Anything Else overflows with codependency, self-doubt, monophobia, paranoia, anxiety and sexual dysfunction. But lately, Allen’s work has fallen on even darker times, and he’s becoming increasingly fond of forcing film critics to add "mean-spirited" to the list of adjectives (quirky, moody, clever) usually used to describe his projects.
In this one, aspiring comedy writer Jerry Falk lives in New York. With his girlfriend, Amanda. And her mom, Paula. After a sizzling, sexually explosive hookup with Amanda, Falk (he’s usually referred to by his last name) moves in with her ... only to have her instantly freeze him out—and invite her mom to come live with them. The only friend he seems to have in the world is an eccentric, chatty old man named Dobel. Birds of feather, the two frequently go for long walks in the park, indulging their desire for deep discussions about everything from sex and love to astrophysics to naked bus drivers. So, when Falk’s relationship with Amanda begins to crumble, it’s Dobel he talks to about it, not Amanda. Don’t blame Dobel for Falk’s problems, though. Falk’s way too good at messing up his own life for that.
Before you can extract anything positive from the tangled mess that is Anything Else, you have to find it. And that’s no easy task. The best this attentive critic can do is mention the fact that Falk finally begins to stick up for himself by movie’s end, choosing to separate himself from a few harmful influences and setting out on his own journey rather than just tagging along on everybody else’s. (Dobel is instrumental in Falk’s "emotional progress," but the advice he gives, while resulting in a few tentative steps in the right direction, is rooted in arrogance and paranoia. Dobel instructs Falk to shed his need for others, not because his codependency is harmful, but because "the only one you can trust is yourself.")
Dobel is an atheist. Falk expresses a desire to write a book about a "godless universe." Dobel tells a marginally humorous story about a priest who was asked to pray for a man to win a boxing match, and equates "shrinks, shamans and priests."
Falk and Amanda live together and are twice shown having sex (nothing explicit appears onscreen, but the pair makes out heavily). Both Falk and Amanda lived with previous boyfriends and girlfriends. Amanda is often seen lounging around the house wearing only her underwear. And she strips down to her bra so that a doctor can examine her (later, she’s seen going out with the doctor).
What really inflates the movie’s sexual quotient are frequent, graphic conversations about sex. Falk and Dobel discuss masturbation. Falk and Amanda spend an inordinate amount of time trying to "figure out" why Amanda gets freaked out when the two of them are about to "do it." Reading between the lines, moviegoers discover that the only thing that seems to "turn her on" is illicitness. The cheating kind of sex is the only kind of sex she likes. After discovering that her diaphragm is missing, Falk finally figures out that she is, indeed, cheating on him. But his response is scary: He’s actually intrigued and stimulated by the idea. Maybe that’s why he ends up concluding it’s okay for her to sleep with other men in a effort to "understand" why she’s no longer attracted to him. She, in turn, pleads with him to bed other women. There are also jokes and discussions about sexual anatomy, pornography, orgasms, a ménage à trois and an unnatural attraction to one’s father.
To repay a couple of punks for stealing his parking space, Dobel takes a tire iron to their car. He also informs Falk that he shot a police officer. No specific violence can be assigned to the following, but it’s worth mentioning that Dobel talks about having a loaded gun in every room of his house. He also convinces Falk that he needs a firearm. The two subsequently buy a rifle, and Dobel teaches Falk how to use it.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Amanda loves to smoke cigarettes. Nearly every scene she’s in pictures her puffing away. Her mother, meanwhile, favors cocaine. Paula and her boyfriend snort the white powder in Amanda and Falk’s apartment, enticing the younger pair to join them. (When Falk protests, he’s belittled for being so stuffy.) Alcohol is consumed along with the cocaine. Wine, vodka and other intoxicants make frequent appearances and are often deemed aphrodisiacs.
Other Negative Elements
Dobel says he killed the police officer for remarking that "the Holocaust was really just a theme park." That’s how deep his paranoia runs. He truly believes the whole world hates Jews. Oxymoronically, Dobel, himself, is guilty of uttering racial slurs, referring to Falk’s agent as "your Jew manager." He follows up by confirming that he is of the "Hebrew persuasion," but that this particular individual was from a "tribe that should have stayed lost." He also calls the man a "little troll." (It doesn’t help that the agent, played by Danny DeVito, is severely stereotyped.) Falk laments that he can’t commit suicide because he has so many problems, "that wouldn’t solve them all." Dobel counsels Falk to strive for originality in his writing, but that if he has to steal, "steal from the best."
Have you ever spent 45 minutes wrapping up a conversation with a longwinded acquaintance? You know the situation: He chats nonstop over lunch, and you’re more than ready to part ways when the check comes. Your companion, however, seems determined to spend the rest of the afternoon resolving global deforestation. You don’t want to be rude, so you slowly ease yourself out of your chair, backpedal to the door, shuffle though it, saunter toward the parking lot and lean helplessly against your car. ... He’s followed you every step of the way and there’s still no end in sight! That’s how I felt half-way through Anything Else. And that’s despite quirkily quick-witted dialogue, not to mention the fact that watching Woody Allen’s rhythmic, sixtysomething musings pour out of the much-too-young mouth of Jason Biggs (best known for his raunchy antics in American Pie) is more than mildly amusing.
Even if the stream of consciousness that pours across the screen were a good thing (and it’s not), there’s too much of it to absorb in a single sitting. And as you begin to fidget, you realize that all you’ve been offered is a mediocre melodrama about a girl who’s only happy when she’s cheating, a boy (never mind that he’s in his mid-twenties) who finds perverted pleasure in the sexual flailings of an unfaithful lover, and a dirty, angry old man who trusts no one and despises everyone. In one of his rambling tirades, Dobel insists that "if a guy comes out in Carnegie Hall and throws up onstage, you can always find some people who are willing to call it art." Exactly. And while Anything Else isn’t so superlative as all that, it takes several steps in its general direction. I’m sure somebody, somewhere is willing to call Woody Allen’s latest a five-star, Oscar-ready achievement. But that somebody isn’t me.