Over the weekend I watched Woody Allen's Anything Else on DVD. (I believe I am correct to say it is his most recently released film.) To sum up the experience quickly, it was very painful.
As the author of a "scholarly" essay on Allen, as well as other such essays on film comedy more generally, I feel like I do have some modest authority to speak on this subject (as well as to occasionally change the focus of this blog from literature to film), and to judge that Anything Else is a complete dud, perhaps the most disheartening failure of Allen's career. (Interiors was bad, but for other and to some extent understandable reasons.) This may be the first time Allen sets out to be funny in the manner of his earlier films--at least the "romantic" comedies Annie Hall and Manhattan--and just isn't.
The jokes are generally tired and derivative (with a few exceptions, as when the protagonist's girlfriend tells him (in essence) she can no longer stand to have sex with him, but that of course it has nothing to do with him), but that is really the consequence of the film's lack of authenticity more generally. The film's main characters are young--even younger than Allen and his own co-stars in their "younger" days in the 70s--and Allen seems to have no clue what to do with them other than rehearse the old routines in what is only a superficially similar mileu.
How much more interesting it would be to see Allen attempt to portray--comically, of course--characters of his own age (60s) dealing with the kinds of problems they still confront, rather than, as he does in this film, trying to keep up with the kids. There aren't that many precedents for either slapstick or romantic comedies about older folks, but one would think that someone as unconcerned about Hollywood and its conventions and as bold a filmmaker as he once was, at least, would be willing to tackle such a subject. Allen's comedic talents and joke-making facility in this context might produce something "edgy" indeed.
Of course, that Allen has chosen in Anything Else to make a conventional romantic comedy focusing on younger people--unmarried people--may just be an obvious sign of the kind of audience to which filmmakers must appeal. It's certainly possible that a film of the sort I've described would fail miserably at the box office (although it probably couldn't fail more miserably than Anything Else apparently did), since the audience for even the "mature" subjects that do get screen treatment now is assuredly small and perhaps getting smaller. However, if a filmmaker as free to do as he pleases as Allen has generally been can't break out of the constraints of the "youth market," who can?
In this way writers of fiction still have an advantage over filmmakers. In some ways their biggest obstacle lies in the opposite direction: actually cultivating a youthful audience for fiction. Still, literary fiction generally depicts the full range of available experience, from childhood to old age, if anything is able to explore the less familiar if not deliberately ignored circumstances of the various kinds of "marginal" people movies don't always like to examine. (And if they do, frequently they're movies based on novels.) Perhaps novelists and short story writers ought not to aspire to the kind of popularity movies enjoy, if it would mean giving up this freedom to roam through the whole open territory of human experience.