Anything Else (2003)

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Anything Else is about Jerry Falk (Jason Biggs) fixing a life that he doesn’t realize needs fixing.  He’s a comedy writer in New York, and he seems very sure of himself.  He’s in a satisfying relationship, already has a therapist at his young age and he has a hardworking manager on his side.

He meets David Dobel (Woody Allen) who takes Jerry under his wing and begins giving him endless advice.  We’re not sure if Dobel is the angel or the devil on the shoulder, but either way he’s persistent.

Dobel encourages Jerry to leave his girlfriend, leave his therapist and leave his manager.  On some level Jerry knows that these relationships have become problematic, but it takes Dobel to point it out to him.

We meet Amanda (Christina Ricci) on the night of her and Jerry’s anniversary, we’re not sure which one (as far as I recall).  Amanda is always late, and she’s got some thing going on that provide constant distraction.  Jerry tells this to us by just talking straight to the camera like an older Woody Allen film.  It’s clear that there is some unrest, and this paints the real picture, establishing that Jerry isn’t honest with himself as he tells Dobel everything in his relationship is perfect… when he seems to know it’s not.

In a flashback we see how Jerry and Amanda met.  She was dating a friend of his, and though he was in his own relationship at the time, he fell madly in love with her.  In one scene the two couples have dinner.  The men sit on one side of the table and the women on the other.  Jerry and Amanda are shown in separate shots, and they’re in the same part of the frame in each shot.  Meanwhile the other person in each shot is slightly forward and out of focus, struggling to get a word in.  It makes Jerry’s desperate lust that much more obvious.

But in the present, things aren’t so great.  They’ve stopped sleeping together, and Jerry watches Amanda flirt with other men.  Jerry’s a good guy, and he can’t find it within himself to do anything in regards to his frustrations with Amanda and with their relationship.  He knows this too, he says it plainly to Dobel.

Dobel, on the other hand, is a man of action, to a degree.  Dobel and Jerry try to back into a parking spot, but another car gets in the way, and the large men of the other car try to intimidate Dobel.  He decides to take a crow bar and smash the other car.  When we see the large men coming back outside, Dobel’s car struggles to start, and we think he’ll receive a quick retribution.  Instead it starts, and he drives off.  The point of the scene, it turns out, is to highlight the differences between Dobel and Jerry as Jerry documents them later on his laptop.

It also sets up the ending in which, after Jerry frees himself from his girlfriend/therapist/manager, he is set to leave for California with Dobel… except Dobel has enacted revenge on another set of guys who wronged him, and he’s now on the run from the law.

The film ends with Jerry in a cab to the airport, leaving town for good.  He remarks to the cabby (after seeing Amanda with a new boyfriend whom we briefly saw early in the film), “I was just thinking, how strange life is, how full of mystery.”  The cabbie then responds, “well, you know, it’s like anything else.”  And the movie ends.

So when the cabbie delivers that line, he’s giving advice.  It’s really just something he says in the absence of any substantive advice, but it’s advice nonetheless.  It’s also the second time in the movie we’ve heard that line.  The other was when, if I’m not mistaken, Dobel quoted a third party in telling a story to Jerry.

So Dobel, what’s up with him?  He’s constantly giving Jerry advice and then also telling him how to ignore advice when other people give it to him.  Jerry is both a bit selfish and incredibly generous.  He really cares about Jerry, in a way reminiscent of Broadway Danny Rose.

Dobel opens Jerry’s eyes, but not without slight resistance.  Through a lot of narration and directly addressing the camera, Jerry lets us know how he feels about Dobel and his own life.  But Jerry is a bit of an unreliable narrator, because he’s working through these thoughts.

Jerry writes about what a character Dobel is, in a way that suggests he doesn’t completely trust him yet, and it never completely feels like he trusts Dobel.  At the same time he does decide to put faith in Dobel when he tells Jerry to move with him to California.

Jerry doesn’t really know what he wants or needs, and even at the end of the film he doesn’t really know.  The story ends with him making a big change in his life, yet it doesn’t seem clear that he will really change anything when he lives in Los Angeles.  All this change of scenery gives him is a fresh start, but he’s still the same person, now without Dobel steering him in a certain direction.  It’s easy to see Jerry falling into a familiar pattern.  He’ll find a woman, they’ll move in together, he’ll find steady work, he’ll continue to try writing a novel, and it’ll be the same.  It’s like when a tv show decides to change the setting of the show, even if just for an episode or as a spinoff of the show.  Like maybe you have CSI and then CSI: Miami.

But that’s part of the journey, isn’t it?  Maybe Jerry has learned enough from Dobel, whether it’s Dobel’s advice or observing the way Dobel behaves, that he’ll make some changes and continue to grow.  It’s all about growth, and Jerry had stopped growing with Amanda, both in their relationship and on his own.

The idea to start writing a novel is a sign of growth, but it really didn’t seem like he was making any progress with that story.  Maybe that’s because whenever someone in a movie is writing a novel, it always feels like they’re doing a poor job.  There’s something about novels within a movie that never seem authentic.  It’s hard enough to write a movie, let alone a novel within that movie, so it’s probably a little patched together.  It’s meant to be impressive in the story, but to the audience it’s a little melodramatic or pretentious.

Also, the close ups of Jerry’s computer show a screen with incredibly wide margins.  It more easily fits the frame, but it’s so narrow.  No one writes that way.

It’d be like writing

like this, with little

to no space on the side

of the body of the text.

Visually this movie is really nice.  It’s framed more carefully than a lot of Woody Allen’s films.  At least, it seems that way.  There are more medium shots and close ups of the actors, and the camera moves smoothly and with grace.

In a lot of Allen’s films, the camera is further from the action, just far enough to show the actors entire bodies, because there’s a lot of movement with each character.  Sometimes that’s just Woody Allen’s character nervously rubbing his hands together, and sometimes it’s much more physical.

But not here.  In this movie we’re put in Jerry’s headspace, and a lot of the important moments in the film involve his reactions to what’s happening.  One example is his slightly horrified expression as the doctor gropes Amanda as he inspects her.  It makes Jerry uncomfortable, and he’s right to feel that way since she ends up with the doctor.

In another moment we see Jerry struggling to write as Amanda’s mother loudly plays the piano in their home.  The comedy is in Jerry digesting the stuff happening around him, not the stuff happening around him itself.  If we take out Jerry’s reactions, then we lose the humor.  Watching a doctor grope Amanda isn’t funny, particularly because she’s not bothered by it.  If she was uncomfortable with hit, then there would be some comedy… mostly an unsettling scene, but it might be played for comedy.

As it is, each scene is like an exhibit, or a test from the universe, trying to see how far Jerry can be pushed before he pushes back.

 

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