“Anything Else” just about did it for me, my friend. “Celebrity”marked the first time I said “uh-oh” during one of your movies. “Hollywood Ending” was at best a 90-minute sit-com. “The Case of the Jade Scorpion” barely survived the federal crime that was Helen Hunt’s acting. But “Anything Else”? Oy. It wasn’t a good sign when you cast Jason Biggs as the lead. If you need a guy to hump a pie, OK, Biggsy’s your guy. But to pull off a struggling New York comedy writer? The title of the film was prophetic. Halfway through I wanted to be doing anything else.
And yet I stayed. It’s what I do. Why am I so devoted? Because for every mild clunker like “Jade Scorpion” or even a trainwreck like “Anything Else,” there are at least a dozen I can recite by heart. I’m just waiting for the next one worth memorizing.
Take the presents and runI discovered you early; Aug. 19, 1976 to be exact. My seventh birthday party. My father kept a TV in his basement office and I started watching “Take the Money and Run” just minutes before guests were scheduled to arrive. I howled when you got your hand caught in the gumball machine during your first robbery. But then the doorbell rang. I ran upstairs to greet the first arriver, made some small talk, excused myself to use the bathroom, and scampered back down.
I'd never seen anyone like you; I was mesmerized. But the guests kept arriving. So I hustled back up, pointed a friend toward the Atari and returned. I watched as you argued with the bank tellers about the legibility of your stick-up note — “It says gun, not gub” — and almost wet myself. I was hooked. I knew there was a party going on upstairs with friends and cake and presents, a party for me, but I didn't care. I just wanted to watch you on my dad's 12-inch black-and-white.
Since then I’ve made an effort to rush out to see all your films, good reviews or bad. These days I’m joined by a devoted but dwindling crowd of Minneapolitans who, like me, not only love your films but actually look and act like you. I’m a 36-year-old, bespectacled, red-haired-but-balding single man who prefers never to leave the city, and I swear to god every second person in the theater resembles me (or more precisely, you).
We’re all there for the same reason: not jokes, not breezy entertainment, but confirmation. No one has ever projected what it is like to be a neurotic, confused, urban romantic better than you, and that’s comforting. When you shoveled in the rice during the disastrous dinner date in “Play It Again, Sam,” when you were plagued with career dissatisfaction in “Manhattan,” when you went searching for spiritual answers from priests and Krishnas in “Hannah and Her Sisters,” you were us. We don’t know what the hell we’re doing and it helps to know we’re not alone.
The Gentile WoodyI’ve long wanted to pull a reverse “Purple Rose of Cairo” and enter your on-screen world, if only to walk the streets of New York with you and Tony Roberts. But that not being an option I’ve chosen the next best thing: blatantly ripping off your persona. I’ve used “The last time I was inside a woman I was at the Statue of Liberty” literally dozens of times to score laughs.
Any success I have had with women comes from stealing your moves. I have struggled with a lobster for the amusement of one. I’ve abruptly kissed another “so we can digest our food better.” I even attempted the “You’re God’s answer to Job” line but messed it up and said “You’re God’s answer to Moses,” which makes no sense but still somehow worked. I even lost my last serious girlfriend in the way you lost Annie Hall — she lit out for California and I didn’t want to leave my beloved city. I’m the Gentile Woody Allen of the Midwest.
You have taught me how to cope when life disappoints. You’re regularly suffering from existential despair in your films but something always snaps you back: a Marx Brothers film, a Bobby Short song, the presence of a newspaper-reading Charlotte Rampling. And when you felt you needed to itemize the reasons to go on living, you came up with that amazing list: Cezanne’s apples and pears, Louie Armstrong’s “Potato Head Blues,” Willie Mays, Swedish movies. For me, it’s the Spoonbridge and Cherry at the Walker Art Center, Elvis Costello’s “New Lace Sleeves,” Kevin Garnett and your films.
You seem to be back on track. I enjoyed “Melinda and Melinda,” and the buzz on “Match Point” is ecstatic. From what I’ve read it’s your return to grappling with weighty subject matter. Thank goodness. I need your take on life’s great imponderables again — love, death, the chicken at Tresky’s. I need more answers. I’ll be there Dec. 28 when “Match Point” premieres in Minneapolis. I have a lot of years invested in following your lead and I don’t plan on stopping now. I need the eggs.
If “Match Point” wins the Oscar for best film, Adam Wahlberg plans to officially change his name to Allen Konigsberg. He is the executive editor of Minnesota Law & Politics (“Only Our Name Is Boring”). He can be reached at .