Thirty-two years after They All Laughed opened the Venice Film Fesitval, Peter Bogdanovich is back on the Lido with screwball comedy She’s Funny That Way. He spoke to the press this afternoon about the star-studded project coming together and noted that today, the kinds of smaller films he likes can only be made independently. “I don’t want to bite the hand that doesn’t feed me,” he said to much laughter, “but unfortunately, Hollywood has gone in the wrong direction.”
The out of competition She’s Funny That Way itself got a lot of laughs when it screened this morning. It stars Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, Kathryn Hahn, Imogen Poots, Rhys Ifans, and Will Forte — along with blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos from Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter and Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon star Tatum O’Neal, as well as a longer turn by a very famous director. The movie already as been called “a masterpiece,” “a riot” and “an triumph” by some; “flimsy” and “dated” by others. The group I saw it with this morning was definitely in the former camp, laughing all the way through and applauding during and after. Folks didn’t rush to the exits when the credits started, as is often the case with Venice auds whether or not they enjoy a film. Then again, the credits roll includes a scene from Ernst Lubitsch’s 1946 Cluny Brown that reveals the origin of “squirrels to the nuts,” a key phrase in the movie and its former title. Bogdanovich said the call was made to change it when translating it became an issue.
Set in the theater world, the story sees Wilson as a director mounting a play to star his wife (Hahn) and a legendary actor with whom she has a past (Ifans). Wilson’s Arnold (who sometimes also goes by Derek) is a kind-hearted guy who pays call girls large sums of money to stop turning tricks and follow their dreams. The story is narrated some time in the future by Poots, an escort turned famous actress. Aniston is her therapist, who is dating the playwright (Forte). Characters bob and weave around one another through all manner of wacky set-ups and coincidences. Aniston’s tightly-wound shrink, who has a habit of gossiping about her patients, got some of the biggest laughs today. There’s also some channeling of Bogdanovich’s 1972 classic What’s Up Doc? — including the casting of Austin Pendleton as a patient of Aniston’s who’s obsessed with Poots’ character.
The screenplay was written by Bogdanovich and Louise Stratten at the end of the ’90s with John Ritter in mind for the lead. When he passed away, Bogdanovich said the script moved to the back burner. He returned to it after getting to know Wilson through Wes Anderson. Anderson and Noah Baumbach were then instrumental in helping put the picture together and getting Wilson and Aniston attached.
Bogdanovich praised producers Logan Levy and Holly Wiersma and said they made the film in 29 days. They’d actually enjoyed shooting a movie set in New York, in New York. He also lamented that the “great days” of Hollywood were lost. “Now, it’s ‘how do you make $300M the first weekend?’ I think we’re in a period of decadence in America.
“I look at films by Wes Anderson or Noah Baumbach or Quentin Tarantino, who make films that are not cookie-cutter, they’re not special effects driven,” he continued. “I’m so bored with special effects. Once you see Spider-Man flying through the city you say, ‘Okay, fine, he didn’t do anything. Who cares?’ When Douglas Fairbanks jumped on a table, you knew he jumped on a table…when Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire danced, they were really dancing…Today with special effects, you don’t need anything because it’s all fake. I have lost interest with those kinds of movies.”