Squirrels to the Nuts, Peter Bogdanovich’s last film, finally enjoys London ‘premiere’
Almost 10 years after filming wrapped and more than one year after the death of its director, on Monday evening Squirrels to the Nuts, the final film of New Hollywood legend Peter Bogdanovich, had its London ‘premiere’.
You see, back in 2015 Bogs’ last film was taken away from him by the studio, re-edited (with additional scenes filmed) and unceremoniously put out, titled ‘She’s Funny That Way’. (Bogdanovich says the change was his own because too many people thought the Squirrels title meant it was a picture for kids).
It received mixed-to-poor reviews and grossed just $6m on a $10m budget.
It was an ignominious way for Bogdanovich’s career to end; a bum note that reinforced the belief that, in his old age, he had long lost his magic touch of the 70s (when credits included The Last Picture Show, Paper Moon and What’s Up, Doc?).
Bogs never disowned the film, nor raised a stink in the press about the shabby treatment he had received — but also never directed another film.
It seemed as though She’s Funny That Way was destined to be left on the dust-pile of history (despite a thoroughly stacked cast including Imogen Poots, Rhys Ifans, Owen Wilson and Jennifer Anniston, among other Bogs alumni such as Austin Pendleton and Cybill Shepherd).
But, in 2020, serendipity struck when a Bogdanovich fan in the United States happened upon an original cut of She’s Funny That Way for sale on eBay, complete with original title: Squirrels to the Nuts.
Bogs’ original vision, which is reported to have tested poorly (hence the re-edit), finally screened to the public at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in March last year, two months after the director’s death at the age of 82.
And on Monday night it was screened in London at the Prince Charles Cinema. Unfortunately, as it’s never been ‘released’ the music rights have not been secured so a wider release in cinemas or on physical media remains in the ether.
After such a tumultuous post-production, what to make of it?
In a lot of ways it is classic Bogdanovich, a love-letter to old Hollywood screwball comedies in the vein of What’s Up, Doc? and Noises Off.
The film centres on Owen Wilson’s Arnold Albertson, a thinly-veiled version of Bogs himself; a well-meaning love cheat with a heart of gold who pays off prostitutes to encourage them to get out of the industry after seducing them with a ‘Squirrels to the Nuts’ spiel about making yourself happy (hence the title).
Albertson is in New York to direct a play which stars his wife (Kathryn Hahn) and an ‘old friend’ of hers Seth Gilbert (played with relish by Rhys Ifans).
And wouldn’t you just know it, the prostitute Albertson hired (Imogen Poots’ Isabella) in the opening of the film is also auditioning…!
What follows is, pretty much, what you’d expect from Bogs: A sliding doors, slapstick farce that never takes itself very seriously.
Critics chided She’s Funny That Way for its out-of-date comedy style and that’s still very much part of Squirrels, with slaps, punches, inopportune chance meetings, illicit lovers stashed in bathrooms, hotel room mix ups and, when a scene needs to end, a yellow cab is never far away (I lost count of the number of taxis hailed throughout).
There’s also a stream of cameos (yes, that is Michael Shannon playing a Macy’s security guard), and an expected level of hijinks and over-indulgence (although nothing like the electric What’s Up, Doc? chase through the streets of San Francisco).
Austin Pendleton’s lovelorn elderly judge, who yearns for a call-girl he just so happens to share a therapist with (there’s a lot of similar crossed paths), is a bit overdone, especially for modern tastes.
But none of these people live in the real world, just in Bogs’ world, a world of whimsy and ‘Why I Oughta!’, where the audience know everything, in the end, is destined to live happily ever after.
I don’t think the new edit is a lost masterpiece, more likely it just makes a bad film (note: I haven’t seen the original) more akin to the director’s style, no flashback structure, voiceover narration or original music (Bogs has always preferred needle drops).
And at least, with this version, the ending line serves not just as a coup de grace for Owen Wilson’s kindhearted director, but also for Bogdanovich himself, a director who was so in love with the past, he was destined to repeat it, even as he forged a path of his own.
Recommended further reading
Roger Ebert’s interview with Peter Bogdanovich ahead of She’s Funny That Way’s original release:
Playing All the Parts: Peter Bogdanovich on "She's Funny That Way" | Interviews | Roger Ebert
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Richard Brody’s ‘review’ of Squirrels to the Nuts for The New Yorker: