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Finding Amanda Too Much Of A Woody Allen Knockoff

Finding Amanda (Magnolia Pictures, 2008)
Written and directed by Peter Tolan

Peter Tolan is most well known for his writing on such classic sitcoms as Murphy Brown and The Larry Sanders Show; he’s also a writer on the present hit, Rescue Me. Finding Amanda marks his feature film debut as a director and writer, so I was curious to see what he had in him. After all, he has a television pedigree equal to the likes of Judd Apatow and J.J. Abrams, who have both made an exciting transition to film.

Finding Amanda, while funny at times, most notably in its supporting characters, isn’t quite the transition one would hope for. This is mainly due to the fact that Tolan is trying so hard to make this a Woody Allen film that it’s really hard not to compare the whole time while watching it.

Matthew Broderick, channeling his own version of Woody Allen that many actors have tried so unsuccessfully in Woody Allen films of the past, plays Taylor Peters. Taylor is a writer for a sitcom that everyone thinks is absolute shit, but he’s gotten it funny enough to move up a little bit in the ratings. He’s also a recovering alcohol and drug addict who hasn’t quite nicked his gambling habits. At one point he asks his psychiatrist if he’s had to quit so much, why can’t he just keep this one problem.

His wife (Maura Tierney), after finding some racetrack stubs, realizes that Taylor has been lying to her for awhile now and is ready to give up on their marriage. Taylor learns that his niece, Amanda (Brittany Snow), is working as a prostitute, and her mother is very worried about her. They have her registered at a rehab clinic, but don’t know how to get her there. Taylor decides that if he goes and gets his niece in therapy, maybe his wife will forgive him for his past transgressions. The one big obstacle is that Amanda is working in Las Vegas.

Taylor goes off to Vegas, and we get an interesting setup that involves Taylor trying to save his niece, who seems perfectly fine when he gets there, and at the same time resist going off the deep end in the midst of all the casinos. The film takes an interesting avenue at the end that I wasn’t wholly expecting; however getting there is a journey that you might not find worth taking.

Brittany Snow, channeling her own Mighty Aphrodite, is actually a bright spot in the film. I’ve never thought she was a terrible actress, but I never saw anything in films like Prom Night or John Tucker Must Die to make me think she had this type of performance in her. Unfortunately, the script has her mostly reacting to Broderick’s problems for most of the film; Finding Taylor would have been a more accurate title for the film, but it’s not, so it’s a little hard to not hold this characterization against it.

The main problem with the story’s direction is that the script presents Taylor as such a selfish piece of shit, that at times you wish he would just drink himself to death. Broderick is as commendable as always with what he is given, but as the film plods along, he seems a lot less interested in everything, as if he just gave up on this movie working at all.

Tolan also gives such weight to the supporting cast that you start wishing there was a film about some of these characters instead of the one you’re watching. Steve Coogan, as usual, steals every scene he’s in as a Pit Boss. Coogan is also uncredited, and I can’t say I blame him too much. I also enjoyed Peter Facinelli as Amanda’s dick of a boyfriend, Greg. And I can’t believe I just wrote a sentence where I commended Peter Facinelli.

So, while the film has some funny moments, most of them are unrelated to the story at hand, which much like this year’s uneven Be Kind Rewind, probably could have used a few more drafts written before going in front of the camera. And the Woody Allen vibe is just too hard to ignore. Broderick’s character is a neurotic and addictive writer, which a lot of Allen’s characters have been in the past. Brittany Snow plays the strong minded female lead that needs a little more sense knocked into her, but in the end she helps Broderick more than he helps her (Mighty Aphrodite, Manhattan, Annie Hall, etc.). Even the music sounds like it was taken right off a Woody Allen soundtrack.

If you’re going to blatantly rip off someone like Woody Allen, you better have your “A-Game,” and Tolan doesn’t. I think Tolan has got some good films in him, and hopefully we will get to see one of those eventually. But I just assume watch the new season of Rescue Me (Which won’t be till 2009; what the hell?) than watch this again.

Sam Loomis

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