director/writer: Woody Allen; cinematographer: Carlo Di Palma; editor: Susan E. Morse; cast: Woody Allen (Harry Block), Judy Davis (Lucy), Elisabeth Shue (Fay), Kirstie Alley (Joan), Bob Balaban (Richard), Hazelle Goodman (Cookie), Eric Lloyd (Hilly), Billy Crystal (Larry), Richard Benjamin (Ken), Demi Moore (Helen), Robin Williams (Mel), Caroline Aaron (Doris), Mariel Hemingway (Beth Kramer),Tobey Maguire(Harvey Stern), Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Leslie), Amy Irving (Jane); Runtime: 96; Fine Line Features; 1997)
“The film is worth seeing only for Woody’s acerbic one-liners”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Woody Allen analyzes himself again on film, this time playing a womanizer writer, married three times and unabashedly childish in relationships. He thinks of himself as a louse and someone who must devour women. He mainly pokes fun at either himself or his fictionalized-self, going through his wide range of jokebook material on Jewish neurotics that is sometimes devilishly funny, sometimes as flat as matzoh, and sometimes done in just plain bad taste. This ill-conceived film has its funny moments, if one can get through Woody’s hubris and his putz-like mannerisms that have a way of zinging you as if you were around a schmuck who couldn’t stop, even for a second, from being who he is. But when I have given up all hope for this muddled mish-mash to amount to anything worthwhile, the “putz” gets off some acidly perceptive comments that go straight to the laugh belly. So what are you gonna say? This is a Woody Allen movie, it is how he operates best and this one ranks somewhere in the middle of his oeuvre.
There are many stars that have cameos, and it works out well. They just do their routines and fit right into this rambling story, especially since it is safe to say that this is not a plot driven movie; in fact, the plot is incidental to the movie. If there wasn’t a plot this would still be a movie about the neurotic behavior of Mr. Allen. So I find it unnecessary to try and explain the plot fully, except to say that Woody writes books, using material from his marriages, with the movie going back and forth between Woody and his real life situation and the characters he has in his book. For instance Richard Benjamin is the Woody Allen character Harry, but with still a different name from that of the book. All the characters in his books are thinly disguised representatives of his real life movie situation.
Robin Williams is hysterical in his cameo, as a man who is out of focus. Billy Crystal’s cameo takes Woody to hell where Woody looks very suave, fitting right in with the guy who invented aluminum siding.
Bob Balaban (Richard) and Hazelle Goodman (Cookie) have more expansive roles. The former plays Woody’s friend who thinks he is ill, as Woody accompanies him to the hospital where he is given a clean bill of health. He can now accompany Woody on his trek upstate to get an award for his writing achievements, from the same college that kicked him out when he was a student. Woody also pays the black hooker Cookie to not only service him but to come along to keep him company. Woody will also include his son in this trek, whom he kidnaps because his ex-wife won’t change the day of Woody’s right to visit the child and he desperately wants his kid to see his father being honored by the college. But wouldn’t you know it, on the car ride upstate to the college, Bob drops dead! Continuing on to the college Woody stops off to see his sister, and ends up trading ethnic insults with her. Woody is even called by her a self-hating Jew.
The film is worth seeing only for Woody’s acerbic one-liners; such as: ‘All religions are just clubs.’ ‘Tradition is the illusion of permanence.’ ‘You are the opposite of a paranoid– you actually believe that people like you.’ There are numerous other wisecracks. So what’s the big deal if the story is not so hot, don’t kvetch, enjoy yourself, you don’t have to be a nihilist to get a few yuks from this film.
REVIEWED ON 1/17/99 GRADE: C