Category Archives: Reviews

SMALL TIME CROOKS (2000)

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3-5 star | Dir: Woody Allen

“Yeah he’s street smart. His brain’s got pot holes.”

Allen has done, and continues to do, many things very well as a filmmaker. Yet what got him his start in the industry, and what arguably made him famous enough to showcase his assorted mastery, was his razor sharp wit and hysterical one liners. Reuniting with legendary comedian Elaine May, one of his nightclub scene touring partners in the 1960s, Small Time Crooks is the first throwback to a pure Woody Allen laugh-a-minute lighthearted comedy since 1995’s Mighty Aphrodite, and arguably 1973s Sleeper. As a modern ‘early funny one’ cousin to Take the Money and Run it’s a minor work among Allen’s more accomplished and resonant pieces in the last two and a half decades. He refers to as a “trivial picture”, which is accurate, but it’s harmless silliness.

Minor as it may be, the story of Tracey Ullman as disenchanted wife Frenchy, to Allen’s lowlife criminal Ray, is an empathetic one. She wants to better their life not by securing money as a means to an end (whether through bank robberies or an unexpectedly booming cookie business as the front for the robbery), but to become a more cultured, civilized and refined couple. The money enables them to enter high society, become a patron of the arts, fit in at a swanky fundraising dinners, embrace international opera houses and cultivate new friends of privileged social stature. Yet this wealth and social status doesn’t make them happy and they begin to miss the simple pleasures of their pastlife. It’s a film about integrity and who we truly are as humans; what our instincts resort to, at our core, in our natural state, no matter how much we seek change and growth and development. And owning that.

Notch up another slew of award-nominated and award-winning female performances for Allen: Ullman was nominated for a Golden Globe, losing out to Renée Zellweger in Nurse Betty, while Elaine May won Best Supporting Actress at the National Society of Film Critics Awards. Ullman, who was a treat as the giddy Eden in Bullets Over Broadway, is superb as Frency, with Allen describing her as “limitless in her ability”. She moves beyond caricature to embody a genuine person with nuances who’s working through her insecurities and vulnerabilities. It’s a skillfully measured performance with conviction and precise comic timing that give Allen’s classic one liners real pizzazz. She and her smarmy art dealer David (Hugh Grant) have some histrionic, hilarious and highly energetic scenes. It’s quite shrewd casting in that Grant someone you usually want to hate yet is often portrayed as a (faux) charming protagonist. Allen, however, facilitates your hate to be unleashed. It’s also nice to see Elaine Stritch return after her strong performance in the disappointing September.

It’s really fun to be back in this world of sight gags and cracking jokes: “You know you’re working with a genius, right? I mean, we’re all smart, but he wears glasses.”, “My accountants. Ray said to trust them as the whole firm had moustaches.” Yet despite the sweet and clever conclusion, including a satisfying wrap up of a story arc involving a Duke of Windsor flask, it always feels like it’s in too much of a rush to move onto the next joke or set up. This renders a lot of the jokes, and the film itself, fairly forgettable.

This foray back to trivial laughs would be the first of a four picture comedy deal with DreamWorks, following Allen contributing to the huge success of their animated release Antz a couple of years earlier. All were written at the same time after mining his drawer of archived draft ideas: “I’m getting older and who knows what could happen to me? I don’t want to have them lying around in my drawer as unrealized, unattempted great comic ideas that I never got to.” Most find the four films a comic low point for Allen, but there’s some charm to the first two amidst an artist surprisingly working to prioritise pleasing his financers within a confined creative space for the first time.

Part of Woody Wednesday. First viewing.

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SWEET AND LOWDOWN (1999)

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3-5 star| Dir: Woody Allen

“Any woman would be second to his music. He wouldn’t miss me any more than the woman he abruptly left. He could only feel pain for his music. “

Following his successful foray into filmmaking with Take the Money and Run, a farcical audience pleasing mockumentary which showed Allen as a more than capable filmmaker, his desire to invest in serious work first emerged. In 1970 he pitched United Artists a script titled The Jazz Baby; a 1930s drama about an ethereal jazz guitarist. While Woody had full authority to pursue whatever creative outlet he wanted in his films – a freedom has has maintained and enjoyed his entire directorial career – the studio had understandable qualms about a man famous for his comedy pursuing such dramatic and esoteric work this early in his vocation. Allen empathised and gave us the rollicking Bananas instead. It would take 29 years for Allen to have the inclination to revisit and rework this early draft, even while dabbling with more serious work in Interiors, September and Another Woman.

Working with new editor Alisa Lepselter (who is still with him to this day 18 years later), Sweet and Lowdown (named after the George Gershwin song, which ironically doesn’t feature in this fabulous soundtrack) keeps the same narrative structure as The Jazz Baby – a well-rooted period mockumentary (clearly an early theme for Allen) using dramatisations stemming from anecdotal, fabricated and oddly-selected talking-head interviews (Douglas McGrath and Allen himself are the best people to inform this story of jazz guitar virtuoso, Emmet Ray, second only to his idol Django Reinhardt?). Allen’s proximity to this fictional story mirrors his own Allen’ modesty in feeling like he can never match the icons of cinema which he idolises himself – Fellini (La Strada acts as inpsiration here), Bergman, the Marx Brothers, Keaton and so on.

In its modification, Woody added some “spirit” and lightened the tone to bring more humour to the piece. This helped change Emmet from a purely a masochistic monster so that his descent becomes a less sad and bleak one. Johnny Depp and Nicolas Cage were considered for role but final choice Sean Penn is superb as the “self-centered, egotistical, highly neurotic, genius guitar player”, as Allen describes his creation; a deeply flawed, deeply self-destructive, deeply selfish, deeply troubled, deeply fearful, deeply narcissistic and deeply talented musical maestro. He loves the music but loves living the life of a musician more, to the shameful neglect of his mute partner Hattie (Samantha Morton).

There’s no shortage of heralded performances in Allen’s filmography, yet Sweet and Lowdown boats the strongest pair of performances in Allen’s work since Crimes and Misdemeanors a decade earlier. Both Penn and Morton were nominated for Oscars and they really are quite magical together. Morton appears right out of the silent movie era, leaving an incredibly touching and stunning impression. Allen instructed her to study the performances of Harpo Max, of whom she had never heard of before, which catalysed one of the most impressive and unforeseen performances in Allen’s work. Some of the comic sequences even play into the silent movie realm in their construction and execution, particularly Emmet’s set fiasco with the crescent moon entrance.

There’s a lot of fun to be had on the ride, with Penn’s criminal shenanigans and debauchery being played as sublimely as the music of Emmet Ray. Yet the films two best scenes happen towards its conclusion, bringing a welcome and bittersweet poignancy to the generally insufferable Ray.  After leaving Hattie for socialite Blanche Williams (Uma Thurman), he’s humbled in his naive and conceited expectations of being reunited with his former love with open and fawning arms. His discovery that she’s moved on, as if everyone centers their world around him as much as he does for himself, leads to Ray’s greatest work being produced by allowing all his regret, angst and sorrow into his playing.

This art vs. artist theme has taken an acidic turn in this 1990s period with Allen depicting toxic, parasitic and problematic artists. Bullets Over Broadway, Deconstructing Harry and Celebrity are among the others which plays off Allen’s own conflict of balancing artistic dreams and a satisfying personal life during a time of public scrutiny, which has not lost its fervor in today’s climate. Tom Shone in Woody Allen: A Retrospective summarised this brilliantly: “balancing his tone between admiration for the art and disappointment in the artist suggesting a candor only made possible by dramatic proxies.”

Part of Woody Wednesday. First viewing.

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CELEBRITY (1998)

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 | Dir: Woody Allen

“From you, I’d be willing to catch terminal cancer.”

Woody Allen’s fame is inconceivable to the man himself. It’s habitually unwelcome and fiercely rejected, both when there are glowing accolades for his work and scathing anger at his domestic drama. He has never attended an Oscars ceremony to formally collect any of his awards. He wanes against interviews, a real shame as the Woody Allen on Woody Allen conversations with Stig Bjorkman are terrific. He would not have even reached the level of success and notoriety he has if his managers Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe didn’t force the timid young gag writer to tell his own jokes on stage and persevere with his squeamish act for over a year until he unearthed his now famous nebbish neurotic New York intellectual persona. The toxic culture of the celebrity has routinely perplexed this modest and content man, with Annie Hall memorably communicating his dislike towards its hotbed of Los Angeles. So it’s unsurprising that he would eventually fashion a film around mocking the cult of celebrities and the stars themselves.

Celebrity offers something of a throwback to Allen’s early work in the sense of it being a loosely connected series of escapades riffing on the attention we pay to, as Allen called them, “the oddest people.” It’s a decent premise with some witty showbiz satire, but it is disappointingly taken in a one dimensional and conventional exploration of the “self-obsessed, sophmorish and solipsistic.” Half baked and underdeveloped, it descends into an empty film devoid of any real meaning. It has little to say and fails to articulate what it does actually want to. All this becomes more remarkable when you see the running time of 113 minutes, which seems lazy for Allen (and longtime editor Susan E. Morse, here in her final collaboration with the director which runs from 1979s Manhattan) who can make a masterpiece like Zelig in 79 minutes.

Judy Davis reveals herself as one of the film’s sole saviours, despite some cringeworthy moments. The one line she delivers as Blanche DuBois makes for a wonderful pairing with Diane Keaton’s impersonation of Marlon Brando from Love and Death two comic giants in their timing and physicality. There’s also some fun cameos from movie stars (then and now) including Winona Ryder, Sam Rockwell, Melanie Griffith, Charlize Theron, Hank Azaria, J. K. Simmons, Joe Mantegna and even the transcendent celebrity himself, Donald Trump.

Allen began to recede from the front of the camera with Bullets Over Broadway, where John Cusack took the reigns and did a solid job in the Woody Allen surrogate role. Many would go on to become Allen 2.0; Owen Wilson, Larry David, Will Ferrell, Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Biggs. All had mixed success, but none have failed in their performance so spectacularly as Kenneth Branagh as the disillusioned celebrity journality. That an actor the calibre of Branagh is reduced to not merely an impersonation, but a pure facsimile of Allen (the timing, intonations, stammers, tics, neurosis, shrewdness, anxiety, ignorance to social contexts) is unfortunate and, quite frankly, rather embarrassing. His character is a wholly terrible and insufferable person with poor judgement that makes it difficult to invest in any of his escapades.

This is merely just one of Allen’s many motifs that are emerging as stale. There is even an explicit carbon copy of the same joke in Annie Hall where Alvie reduces Allison Portchnik to a series of cultural stereotypes as form of flirting. Branagh doesn’t do it as charmingly as Allen and, equally, Allen the filmmaker doesn’t do anything here as effectively as his 1977 counterpart. Even his many attempts at homaging his own faourite celebrity filmmakers begin to lose their integrity, with Fellini’s La dolche vita here appearing as more of a parody. Allen commented on the film after it’s release:

“I had no tremendous insight into it, only to record that it was a phenomenon that permeated my culture at that point, that everybody had such a reverence for celebrity and that it meant so much. That was what I so was trying to do. To what degree I succeeded I don’t know, but I tried.”

Even in 2017, nobody questions Allen’s effort as his key detriment. But Celebrity marks the first sign of the auteur’s artistic decline and arguably his first outright bad feature film. His early films suffer from inexperience and composure but have many humourous merits. A Midsummer Nights Sex Comedy may be trivial but it’s a visual treat (as, to be fair, is Celebrity in all its monochrome glory, in Sven Nykvist’s final film with Allen) and well performed. September, for all its turmoil, has ambition and displays skilled craftsmanship. This is simply Woody Allen operating at a significantly lower level than he is capable of for the first time. This was the first film released following Titanic featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and, as Allen amusingly notes, “it doesn’t make a dime.” Most Allen films don’t, but unlike the majority, this didn’t deserve to.

Part of Woody Wednesday. First viewing

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NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (2016)

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| Dir: Tom Ford

“Our world is a lot less painful than the real world.”

Fashion designer Tom Ford transitioned into movies with 2009’s visually striking and emotionally resonant A Single Man. It looked, spoke and felt like what many would expect a Tom Ford creation to be. Yet his much anticipated follow up shifts into a much darker area – a tense meta noir-thriller that surely takes inspirations from the likes of David Lynch and Nicolas Winding Refn. As ambitiously stylish as you would expect but with an aesthetic doesn’t overshadow the substance; it merely colours the rich emotional complexity. It’s an intelligent, elegant and gorgeous piece that establishes Ford as a diversely skilled artist in two sectors.

What a consuming, arresting and intoxicating experience this becomes. The novelistic narrative stream is certainly the more immediately engaging and thrilling, with Ford fluently tying its entertainment value around deeper melodramatic wrappings. But this unevenness is minor when the fictional revenge erupts just as devastatingly as its present day reality revenge does.Edward Sheffield and Tony Hastings (both Jake Gyllenhaal) both prove to not be weak men in parallel worlds. There’s also a nice moment where Hastings’ regret at his choices reflects Susan’s (Amy Adams) own.

The performances themselves are certainly major – Adams, Gyllenhaal, Fisher, Linney, Shannon (very unsurprisingly) and Taylor-Johnson (very surprisingly) play their individual notes with such quality. The often times unflattering close ups expose some brilliant work from Adams in particular, while Shannon is as effective as ever. Any film that casts Isla Fisher as a surrogate or ersatz for Amy Adams (in the films strongest sequence) deserves appreciation – that it did so and didn’t even make me notice the difference until the credits deserves adoration.

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DECONSTRUCTING HARRY (1997)

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3 star | Dir: Woody Allen

“You think getting a blowjob from a big bosomed 26 year old is a pleasurable thing for me?”

Some of Allen’s favourite writers are the great explorers of existentialism; Nietzsche and Camus in particular. His own works like Annie Hall, Shadows and Fog, Zelig, Stardust Memories and Love and Death tackle this crisis as a major theme. But none does so in such a dark and pessimistic tone than Deconstructing Harry, where the title couldn’t be more self-explanatory to the film’s action.

Harry Block (Allen) is an author whose meaning in life we deconstruct, dissect and dissemble from his work. What a physiological minefield it is: homicidal, cannibalistic Jews; anti-Semitism; debauchery; self-destruction; adultery; and kidnapping, to name but a few of his fine attributes. Harry is too neurotic to function in reality and can only operate through his art; a distorted, manipulated one at that. Harry puts his life into his novels, with thinly veiled attempts at disguising the facts.

This is something which Woody is notorious for doing in his own works of art. As he states in Annie Hall: “You know how you’re always trying to get things to come out perfect in art because it’s real difficult in life.” The irresistible story of Alvie and Annie’s courtship and  fated demise is inspired by the real-life relationship of Allen and Diane Keaton; there is even a play written by Alvie in the film which romanticises their relationship and fabricates a positive ending. Manhattan is rumoured to be based on real life relationship with 17 year old Stacey Nelkin in the years prior (Isaac’s ex-wife Carol also writes a book about their relationship in the film). Stardust Memories was altogether a curlish response to his fanbase rejecting his newfound widespread popularity. Radio Days is a loving portrait of his childhood. Husbands and Wives transcends fiction and fact at a time of Allen and Farrow’s separation. Allen’s art bluntly “mediates between the need for illusion and the need to reach some accommodation with the real”. It all turns unbearably meta here when a dream (an illusion) influences Harry to write a novel (his art, another illusion) about a character who is effectively Harry Block, who is essentially Woody Allen, who is writing this entire thing (an illusion).

As appropriate as the title of the film is, the working title of The Worst Man in the World would still prove to have been accurate. Block is a shallow, superficial, deluded, narcissistic, exploitative, deceitful and sex obsessed man with little redeeming qualities. He justifies adultery as a disguised plea at more closeness with his wife, he demeans his wives as playing their part in a  “nice, solid, tranquil, routine marriage” and he even proves to be a bigger sinner than The Devil (Billy Crystal) – “I do terrible things. I’ve cheated on all my wives and none of them deserved it, I sleep with whores, I drink too much, I’m vain, I’m cowardly and I’m prone to violence.” He expects people to adjust to the distortion that he’s become, which in a way reflects Allen’s passivity towards his domestic controversy in that everyone should accept his moral misgivings with Soon-Yi Previn. Block is a fundamentally poor and thoroughly unlikable human, to the film’s significant detriment. But he is a brilliant creative mind and harnesses his odds against the world mentality – his inability to “transform reality to his desires” – into great art. In the end, writing saves his life.

Allen frames this exploration around a weak plot line of Harry traveling to a ceremony at his old college where he is being honoured, alluding to the story of Bergman’s Wild Strawberry’s.  With this format of storytelling, the structure presents the opportunity to meet a myriad of characters from Blocks art and his reality. Allen facilitates this with one of the most topically star-studded Allen casts for its era – Crystal, Kirstie Alley, Judy Davis, Julie Kavner, Demi Moore, Stanley Tucci, Elisabeth Shue and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. As is common in Allen’s sphere, the ladies shine the brightest with big comic performances that mask the narrative shortcomings. Alley’s inappropriate and unwavering outburst at Harry, while attempting to maintain decorum in the middle of seeing one of her patients, is fantastic. And Judy Davis returns after a spellbinding performance Husbands and Wives; her delivery of the word “sewer” has never been done better, while her transition from struggling to hide her giddiness at being chosen by Harry to a turn of shock at realising she’s actually been passed over by Harry (shaky legs, dry open mouth, uncontrollable spasms, heavy breathing, fainting) is fantastically farcical.

While this mid-90s period is regarded by some as the beginning of an artistic slump for Allen that would largely run until 2005’s Match Point, there are plenty of creative ideas on show here. Mel being out of focus, the Death elevator scene updated from an unused Annie Hall pitch, real life characters meeting their fictionalised counterparts and magical time travel are particularly memorable. It also features one of Allen’s most famous comic lines:

“You have no values. Your life is nihilism, cynicism, it’s sarcasm and orgasm.” “Y’know in France, I could run on that slogan and win.”

On the surface, Deconstructing Harry seems in many ways the perfect conceptualisation of a Woody Allen film with many of his tropes on full volume. Yet it also plays like a b-side; a messy amalgamation of recycled ideas from a still talented artist lacking the energy and refinement to meet his peak standards. One could be much more satisfied with everything the film attempts to do from viewing a combination of his past works; Husbands and Wives for the erratic handheld cinematography, Manhattan and Annie Hall for the deconstruction of a flawed man, Hannah and Her Sisters for the rich and complex interplay between an ensemble. As Block says to his wife towards the films conclusion about one of his draft novels, the script lacks energy. It’s as if Allen is once again using his art to reflect his own life.

Part of Woody Wednesday. Second viewing.

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EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU (1996)

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4 star | Dir: Woody Allen

“I’m out of shape, I can’t jog. I haven’t touched my treadmill in weeks. 572 weeks. That’s 11 years.”

It’s surely not a coincidence that the ending of 1995’s Mighty Aphrodite, with its Greek chorus led musical theatre number, transitions us into 1996’s Everyone Says I Love You – a charming trip back the world of the Hollywood musical. It has all the hallmarks of Allen’s penchant for blurring and battling between the lines of fantasy and reality. Here he’s doing it with the the lightest of touches within the boldest of cinematic frameworks. As Roger Ebert expertly put it, the film “dances on a tightrope between comedy and romance, between truth and denial, between what we hope and what we know”.

During the writing of Annie Hall – when every creative concept and artistic device was on the table – Allen asked co-writer Marshall Brickman “What if the characters just sang at this point?” That notion is recycled into the essence of Everyone Says I Love You so magically that you’re glad it wasn’t wasted as a throw away feature in a film of overflowing credit.

Woody has always thrived in the realm of high concept and big ideas – ZeligThe Purple Rose of CairoHusbands and Wives. Not since Zelig has he challenged his photography talent so technically as he combines rich mise-en-scene, trademark lengthy master takes and complex choreography. As Allen explains: “When I see a movie, I want to see the dancers in front of me full length. I hate it when they cut to their feet. I hate it when they cut to their faces. I don’t like angle shots. I want to see it the way I see it if I pay $10 and I go to the city centre and the dancers are in front of me. You know, straight on.”

Some aesthetic highlights include: Tim Roth’s fleeting criminal love interest to Drew Barrymore plotting her abduction one minute, then elegently and smoothly serenading her the next; a group of ghosts (and one urn of ashes) in a funeral home rising from their caskets and lecturing everyone on enjoying life while you have it – with kicks to emphasise the point; a series of children on Halloween singing as the characters that they’re dressed as; and the film’s artistic and romantic peak with a gravity defying waltz along the banks of the River Seine. Allen has not been so single-mindedly romantic since Manhattan and the result is cinema that’s sublime.

The songs themselves that accompany the dances are corny in the best way, playing homage but also gesturing of parody. They’re well placed within the pacing of the film, more summarising character thoughts than driving the narrative forward, but never overstay their welcome. Even Allen’s sole solo serenade – so gentle and vulnerable and almost inaudible – is rather sweet despite the obvious limitations of the performer. But outright illustrating those limitations was his artistic intention. Through the vocal performances he wanted to capture “the aspirations of your most intense feelings musicalized…If they sang like like regular people, that’s the idea”.

Despite these limitations, it’s Allen’s funniest performance since Hannah and Her Sisters; a more mature take on his inept, bumbling persona as he manipulates his way into the heart of Julia Roberts. The dramatic eavesdropping motif in Another Woman originally began as a comic notion when Allen was interested in creating something more Chaplinesque. Like he did with he unused idea for Annie Hall, it is recycled here to comic success. Although he had never truly gone away, you could argue that Allen the witterist also makes a grand return to form: “Yes she was a heroin addict, but I thought it was insulin”; “Minnie’s been dead for 20 years grandpa”  “I’m not arguing that. Im just saying if she calls I’ll be home later”; and the magnificent “I’m gonna kill myself. I should go to Paris and jump off the Eiffel Tower – I’ll be dead. You know, in fact, if I get the Concord I could be dead three hours earlier, which would be perfect. Or, wait a minute. With the time change, I could be alive for six hours in New York but dead three hours in Paris. I could get things done and I could also be dead!”

But all was not on new upward trend for Allen. Behind the scenes, his partnership with Jean Doumanian’s Sweetland Films brought with it some merciless budgetary compromises now he was separated from direct Studio financing. This would be his last film with longtime producer Robert Greenhut (after 20 years since Annie Hall) and costume Designer Jeffrey Kirkland (since 1980’s Stardust Memories).

The medley of stories among this family are connected by Djuna’s (Natasha Lyonne) character-led narration of her summer vacation, and it somewhat sweetly ties together at the end to provide a justification for the device – “You better make it into a musical or no one’s going to believe it!” On the surface theyall say very little with no genuine drama or consequences, but together they become little pockets of escapist fun. It’s quintessential Woody Allen, with a few jazz hands to boot.

Part of Woody Wednesday. First viewing.

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MIGHTY APHRODITE (1995)

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3 star | Dir: Woody Allen

“If Clint Eastwood wants to be hairdresser then just let him”.

After losing a year long custody battle to Mia Farrow over their two adopted children – and enduring very public allegations of sexual abuse on one of them – you would assume that adoption would be the last thing Allen would want to preoccupy his artistic time on. But the case of adoption-phobic sportswriter Lenny Weinrib appears unsurprisingly similar to the case of Woody Allen. Allen had often wondered about the origins of his adopted daughter Dylan, an unusually bright child. That brooding turns to obsession in Mighty Aphrodite, where a subject matter so personally heavy to Allen is treated rather lightweight on screen.

Finally agreeing to adopt a boy called Max, Lenny becomes preoccupied with discovering who this gifted child’s birth mother is. Max’s talent turns out to be the product of Linda Ash (Mira Sorvino), a prostitute and porn star who many others know as the tastefully named Judy Cum. Initially terrified of getting more involved with this creature, Lenny begins to take pity on her. Out of privileged hubris – with a dollop of lust thrown in – he plays God and attempts to shape her destiny for the benefit of Max when he inevitably looks for his mum. Because every child wants their birth mother to be hairdresser married to an onion farmer, rather than the star of ‘The Enchanted Pussy’. Larry, a man with a “full Achilles body”, begins to resemble the antics of Danny Rose in his fish-out-of-water negotiation tactics. The action is charted by a melodramatic and choreographed Greek Chorus (led by F. Murray Abraham), acting as an amusing moral compass for Lenny’s meddling.  It’s a fun comic gimmick that plays up the Grecian irony of the story by adding a little depth to its themes, but it largely serves to just provide some nice gags. A favourite of mine is them breaking out into an a capella version of “You Do Something to Me” while serenading a date.

Sorvino is super as the sweet, peppy, simple-minded, helium-pitched prostitute-come-porn star-come-wannabee hairdresser. She breezes along with endearment and energy while carefully balancing this with genuine vulnerability and emotional scarring; without losing either the humour or the pathos. She has a command of the screen no other performer here can match, growing this potentially one dimensional cliche into a well rounded and sympathetic woman. Sorvino famously only got the role after dressing up in character and forcing a recall with Allen in the plush 5-star Dorchester Hotel in London. Her reward was an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress – two in a row for Woody after Dianne Wiest’s victory last year in Bullets Over Broadway.

With her passion for helping disadvantaged children and avoiding over-population on Earth, Lenny’s curator wife Amanda (Helena Bonham Carter) becomes a surrogate for Farrow. Carter plays the character in the vein of Farrow’s mousey yet neurotic tone, with her voice even sounding eerily exactly like Mia at times. Her performance and his pseudo-fictional premise aren’t surprising when you consider that Woody had the bind gall to suggest to casting director Juliet Taylor that Mia would be the best person to play the role of Amanda. Taylor had the common sense to dissuade him approaching her.

The poster for the film suggests that “The sexy fun begins this June!”. It’s a tagline I don’t think Woody would include in his own synopsis, but as a description of what makes the film successful, it’s accurate. The scene where Larry and Linda first meet in her apartment, surrounded by a collection of hysterical phallic ornaments, is brilliant. Allen writhes around in his mistake, damned wherever he looks – at Linda particularly. The film also bears some of Allen’s most graphic language – “Well you didn’t want a blowjob, so the least I could do is get you a tie”; “So there I am on the first day on set and there’s this guy fucking me from behind right, and there’s these two hug guys dressed like cops in my mouth at the same time. And I remember thinking to myself – ‘I like acting. I wanna study'”.

But for all its accomplished comedic writing, the narrative regularly relies on typical Woody Allen contrivance. This can be overlooked because the action it facilitates is so regularly wonderful to watch, but the final 10 minutes here is an unforgivable series of rushed and desperate attempts at unnecessary narrative notes to conclude a fairy tale; Amanda leaves Larry; Linda gets beat up by her boyfriend Kevin (Michael Rapaport); Larry sleeps with Linda (despite his earlier concerns, he doesn’t need to be put on a respirator after making love to her); Larry begins to regret this and miss his wife (just like Alvie quickly began to miss Annie); Amanda simultaneously regrets cheating on him and they get back together; Linda meets her perfect husband via a miraculous helicopter breakdown and has a baby; Larry and Linda meet several years later, with Larry’s ironic punishment for his meddling unknowingly being the biological father to Linda’s child – just as she is to Max.

It’s all an embarrassing and odd mess that stumbles into well signed pitfalls, adding zero depth or satisfaction to the story. What’s most disappointing is how Allen throws away a sweetly developed connection between Larry and Linda – two people at their lowest pulling one another up – by going with the obvious, easy and cheap short cut. The Woody Allen of 1972 may be expected to indulge in his lustful storytelling incentives, but the Woody Allen of 1995 should have stronger perseverance and awareness. Out of all 16 of his Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay, this feels the most unworthy among that company.

Part of Woody Wednesday. First viewing.

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