Tragedy, comedy and a little of both.
There are some who believe that Woody Allen makes the same movie every
time out. I can certainly see similar parallels to earlier classics
like Annie Hall, Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters, as well as more
recent Woody movies like Anything Else. Yet, what makes Allen such a
great artist as a writer/director is that he deals with such huge
topics that he can afford to present the same ideas in a variety of
The film this most closely resembles is Crimes and Misdemeanors, in
which two stories are told on parallel scales with the same central
character: Melinda Robicheaux, played by the beautiful and vulnerable
Radha Mitchell. Like Woody's 1989 film, one story is comic and one is
tragic. Two writers tell the same story with different themes in order
to decide whether or not life is a tragic or comical experience. Within
each story, Allen wisely drops slight hints and similarities that make
it like a little game for the audience to try and pick up in order to
maintain our attention. He also includes some of his best writing since
Deconstructing Harry, as well as a slew of terrific cast members
including Will Ferrell as the Woody Allen-type, Amanda Peet, Chloe
Sevigny, and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
My main problem with Woody's more recent efforts post-Mighty Aphrodite
is that his outlook is so demonstratively cynical that it interfered
with my enjoying the movie. The cynicism is toned down in this film,
but the last scene mixes downbeat with wise insight to human existence.
In a way, this short interlude sums up the message Woody Allen has
tried to give us throughout his 40-plus years in the film business. It
isn't ideal, but Woody is so perceptive that all you can do is nod and
keep on living..
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And how many actors can he get to stand in for his own neurotic,
compulsive uber-New Yorker persona? In this film Woody is played by
Will Ferrell in what is mercifully less a direct impersonation than the
one Kenneth Branagh did in "Celebrity." It's an annoyingly repetitive
story now: nebbishy, neurotic man with a wife or girlfriend falls madly
in love with a shiksa queen upon which he projects all manner of
perfection. Everyone lives in perfect gigantic apartments in great
Manhattan neighborhoods, everyone constantly patronizes expensive,
exclusive restaurants during which all the characters relate
fascinating anecdotes and discuss arcane philosophy, there is always a
trip to the Hamptons during which the nebbishy main character spazzes
out about sand and physical exertion and possible exposure to diseases,
and then of course, said main character feels guilty about his lust for
the shiksa queen but pursues her anyway, sometimes succeeding,
sometimes failing, etc.
This a tired formula, and proof that Allen isn't really a great film
artist at all. He just seems like a dirty old man with the libido and
emotions of a 20-year-old who is intent upon telling the same boring
old stories again and again..