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Film review: Anything Else

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David (Woody Allen) advises Jerry (Jason Biggs) about his life, love and career in "Anything Else." Allen plays a supporting role in the film.

David (Woody Allen) advises Jerry (Jason Biggs) about his life, love and career in “Anything Else.” Allen plays a supporting role in the film.

Myles Aronowitz, Dreamworks

Among the biggest surprises in "Anything Else" is that, for the first time in quite a while, Woody Allen's character doesn't have a love interest — much less a much, much younger one.

Allen, who wrote, directed and co-stars, also takes a back seat to other cast members this time around, using himself as a supporting character.

The result is refreshing, and so is this comedy's darker, more reflective tone.

Admittedly, the movie does see Allen returning to some almost-too-familiar territory, examining the relationships between men and women. Yet it doesn't feel nearly as stale as you might think. In fact, many of its points about co-dependence and the meaning of commitment are constructive.

He also manages to get a good performance out of Jason Biggs (the "American Pie" films), who stars as Jerry Falk, a comedy writer struggling with his career and his personal life. Jerry is stuck with an incompetent manager (Danny DeVito) and finds himself living with Amanda (Christina Ricci), an immature actress whose passive-aggressive tendencies surface all too often.

Obviously, Jerry's not too happy, so he tries to work out his problems by discussing them with, not his therapist, but fellow comedy-writer David Dobel (Allen). However, as the two men spend more time together, Jerry discovers that the prone-to-sudden-rage David may not be the best of role models.

There are bound to be some accusations of misogyny regarding some of the material, but the male characters here are even more insecure and pathetic than the female ones. And Allen's script is filled with some very funny observations, many of them on subjects other than the battle of the sexes. Also, his pacing is more relaxed, allowing for appreciation of some of the better one-liners.

The cast is very good. While Biggs and Ricci do emulate the stuttering Allen line delivery, their characters have their own individual voices (particularly Ricci's ultra-neurotic Amanda). And on the supporting side, Stockard Channing makes the most of her limited screentime as Amanda's boozy, would-be-songwriter mother.

"Anything Else" is rated R for crude sexual talk, sexual humor and references, simulated drug use (prescription drug abuse and cocaine use), simulated sex, scattered use of mild profanity, violence (an act of vandalism). Running time: 108 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com