Aspiring writer Jerry Falk (Jason Biggs) currently scripts jokes for comedians, but is finding the work unsatisfying. Through his manager (Danny DeVito), he met David Dobel (Woody Allen), a 60 year old schoolteacher who also tries to make a living as a joke writer, and they strike up a friendship where Dobel dispenses fatherly advice to the younger Jerry. Jerry is seeing an unhelpful psychiatrist about his problems, which include his girlfriend Amanda (Christina Ricci), who he illustrates her lax attitude to keeping a love affair alive by telling of her poor timekeeping, as seen when Jerry turns up to meet her at a restaurant to celebrate their anniversary and she arrives some time later, already having eaten. Despite his disappointment with Amanda, Jerry remains besotted, but is haunted by the feeling that he really should be doing better with his life...
Written by director and star Allen, Anything Else was a return to his more traditional New York comedy in the style of Annie Hall, only this time, too old to play the lead, he takes a supporting role in his usual neurotic comedy character. Nevertheless, the film is still unmistakeably Allen's with the quips, the preoccupations with the existence (or not) of God and the meaning of life, romantic troubles and someone feeling nauseous at one point. It begins with Allen and Biggs sitting on a park bench and holding a discussion, whereupon Biggs turns to the camera, as he does in a few instances throughout the film, and tries to explain what's going on. Then we are treated to a flashback to see how Dobel and Jerry met, and then another flashback within that one to see how Amanda and Jerry met.
Jerry already had a girlfriend when he initially saw Amanda, girlfriend of his old friend, but it was lust at first sight - for him, if not for her. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Amanda only really enjoys a romantic relationship if it's with a man other than that which she is supposed to be faithful to, so she happily starts seeing Jerry behind his friend's back. Soon they have moved in with each other, but some months later they are having problems. I don't know how obvious Allen intended it to be, but Amanda is patently the wrong person for Jerry (who would she be right for?, we end up wondering), and Ricci plays up her selfish aspect to the hilt so that she's not so much a person, more another good reason for Jerry to leave his life behind and start afresh.
Biggs, however, is essaying an alternative Woody role, but it's amusing to see Dobel as Jerry's mentor to his younger self, especially as he has his own deep seated hangups which he transfers to Jerry. Dobel is nothing short of paranoid, whether it's believing that anti-Semitism is not only rife in society but continually aimed at him personally, or forcing him to grow obsessed with survivalism - it's pretty funny to imagine him trying to fend for himself in the wilderness with his guns and floating torch. These worries rub off on Jerry, and he buys a rifle and survival paraphernalia at Dobel's insistence, even though we never see a situation where he could reasonably use it. Earlier, Dobel has told the tale of how he was locked away in a mental institution for violent behaviour, something which is difficult to accept.
Until that is, we see him take revenge on a car which stole his parking space by smashing its windows, and we realise that Jerry has to get out of New York and leave all the people he knows behind because not only are they holding him back, but are spoiling his chances too. His manager only has him as a client, but basically tries to get him the worst jobs for the worst comedians, as all the while Jerry's frustrations in wanting to be a serious writer fray his nerves. When Amanda's mother (Stockard Channing) moves in with them and interrupts one night of creativity with cocaine, and when Jerry spies on Amanda to see her getting friendly with another man, he comes to the decision to move on. Dobel, who he has been quoting like the intellectuals he idolises, suggests an escape route and it's surely not much of a choice to go or stay. Anything Else is pretty straightforward, but is attractively acted and features enough good lines to make it worthwhile, even if it's none too memorable.
American writer/director/actor and one of the most distinctive talents in American film-making over the last three decades. Allen's successful early career as a stand-up comedian led him to start his directing life with a series of madcap, scattershot comedies that included Bananas, Sleeper and Love and Death. 1975's Oscar-winning Annie Hall was his first attempt to weave drama and comedy together, while 1979's Manhattan is considered by many critics to be Allen's masterpiece.
The 90s saw Allen keep up his one-film-a-year work-rate, the most notable being the fraught Husbands and Wives, gangster period piece Bullets Over Broadway, the savagely funny Deconstructing Harry and the under-rated Sweet and Lowdown. After a run of slight, average comedies, Allen returned to more ambitious territory with the split-story Melinda and Melinda, the dark London-set drama Match Point, romantic drama Vicky Cristina Barcelona, one of many of his films which won acting Oscars, and the unexpected late-on hits Midnight in Paris and Blue Jasmine. In any case, he remains an intelligent, always entertaining film-maker with an amazing back catalogue.