Movie Review #708
Of interest – This is my longest review yet. Word count: 1,168.
A Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe Production…
…an Orion Pictures Release…
Orion Pictures Corporation
Distributor: Orion Pictures Corporation
Spoken Languages: English
Directed by Woody Allen. Produced by Robert Greenhut. Written by Woody Allen.
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – sexual material, infrequent profanity. Approved by the Production Code Administration (certificate #30686). Runs 1 hour, 42 minutes. Limited release in Chicago, Illinois, Los Angeles, California, and New York City, New York on December 25, 1990.
Starring Mia Farrow and Joe Mantegna. Also starring William Hurt, June Squibb, Marceline Hugot, Dylan O’Sullivan Farrow, Matt Williamson, Julie Kavner, Billy Taylor, Holland Taylor, Michael-Vaughn Sullivan, Robin Bartlett, Linda Wallem, Gina Gallagher, Patience Moore, Kim Chan, Diane Cheng, Keye Luke, Lynda Bridges, Anthony Cortino, Judy Davis, Cybill Shepherd, Alec Baldwin, Katja Schumann, Vanessa Thomas, Blythe Danner, Gwen Verdon, Patrick O’Neal, Kristy Graves, Laurie Nayber, Rachel Miner, Amy Louise Barret, Caroline Aaron, Alexi Henry, James Tobac, Bernadette Peters, Elle Macpherson, Ira Wheeler, Lisa Marie, Diane Salinger, Alfred Cherry, David Spielberg, and Bob Balaban. Featuring an uncredited cameo appearance by Mary Stein.
Not counting any television movies or short films, Woody Allen has directed forty-four movies, of which I’ve seen twenty-two. This is what I’ve come to. Let me delineate the four basic “eras,” if you will, that Allen’s filmography can be broken down into. Everything from “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” (1966) to “Sleeper” (1973) is an entry into the Slapstick Era. That period of time is followed closely by the First Soap Era, which runs from “Love and Death” (1975) all the way into “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989). That’s where the next age comes in: the New & Inventive Era, which tracks from “Alice” (1990) into “Hollywood Ending” (2002). Then the old traditions pick right back up again with the Second Soap Era, which spans from “Anything Else” (2003) up to “Blue Jasmine” (2013) and more than likely through Woody’s upcoming release, this year’s “Magic in the Moonlight”.
Just writing this on a legal pad, I can feel a mess of both nodding and blank stares. No, I haven’t lost my mind, and yes, for those who get sort of what I’m pinpointing here, I do know it doesn’t match up film for film. If it did, then “Zelig” (1983) and “Midnight in Paris” (2011) would have both been released during the New & Inventive Era, and “Husbands and Wives” (1992) and, perhaps, “Everyone Says I Love You” (1996) would belong in one of the two Soap Eras. Just bear with me, anyway; it’s a rough sketch.
Moving on now, I think the one I need to clear up a little bit is the New & Inventive. What exactly do I mean by “new and inventive”? Well, it’s simple, actually. From 1990 to 2002, Woody Allen was trying to restart his career with homemade jumper cables. That’s to say that he was putting every love story he’d made, every wild farce with his name on it, all that behind him and start from scratch. As far as what was released during these twelve years, you don’t need to look at anything more than the IMDb plot descriptions to figure out that the man was departing from “same old, same old” romances and trying to plunge himself into new stories.
Sometimes he was met with praise. Other times, his newness only made for a cheesy movie with regretful aftertaste.
Frankly, I can’t put my finger on why Allen continued after “Alice” (1990), his first movie during the New & Inventive Era. I can’t put my finger on why he even thought it was a good idea after that first attempt. I just can’t put my finger on it, and when I try and use the identical digit on my opposing hand, no dice. I’ll give Woody credit for being new. Hell, I’ll give him an upwards thumbnail for being inventive. I’ll keep that thumb up for the outfit worn by the title character, the music, and the homage to Federico Fellini’s “Juliet of the Spirits” that apparently permeates every crack and crevasse of this flick. But the fantasy twist evokes such eye rolling! Even if I loved anything and everything Woody Allen did make “Alice” an unexpectedly kooky film, there’s still room for shame. Yes, the visual movie magic contributes, but is there any getting by the fact that this is a most banal excuse to showcase those special effects?
As much as I love Mia Farrow, there’s nothing better than Mia Farrow in a Woody Allen movie. There’s one exception, of course, and that’s right here, folks. She just overacts and pops so much cornball into her performance that she could easily outpop the average popcorn machine. This has worked for her multiple times in Woody’s movies, though. If only the script were more clever, her caricature might’ve been a home run.
It’s a dangerous question, to ask how Alice changes the script itself by being its leading heroine. This women does two things–just two–and you can tell me whether that’s a work of sexism or poor character development.
One. She talks. And talks, and talks, talks, chats, flaps her gums, her lips, whatever. Talks, speaks, lets words, sentences, phrases fly out sa bouche. And then, after she’s had a moment’s break, she gets goin’ again. Talk, talk, talk some more. I think Meredith Willson wrote a song specifically about this woman in The Music Man. The lyrics, of course, denote the act of talking in a rather thorough fashion.
Two. Alice complains. She’s neurotic, but so are at least half of Woody Allen’s protagonists. He loves his neurotics, but Alice’s complaints are just too dry and unfunny for us to love. I was ripping hairs from my head when she was just complaining and complaining about that damn backache of hers. She repeats herself when she complains. Oh and guess what, Alice, I have two stainless steel rods holding my back together and straightening it to prevent scoliosis from turning me into Quasimodo. How do ya like them apples? You think that’s any fun? Do you hear me complaining about some silly backache?
Oh and by the way, she repeats herself when she complains. I feel like I’ve said that already, but I kid you not. She really does repeat herself when she complains. (Should I say it again?)
I often would characterize Woody Allen as a screenwriter of situation, in which case the events and happenstances are fleshed out for the screen more than anything else. Some of his best, however comes when he writes character to a higher degree than situation. “Annie Hall”, “Zelig”, “Match Point”, and “Blue Jasmine” all succeed thanks to the personalities that feature. Whereas “Alice” is in desperate need of character development. Once we have a reason to be interested in the main character, which we certainly do, we need a reason not to lose interest. (Oops!)
The lead role is not a followup to the same-titled TV series, or the originating movie in which Ellen Burstyn played a woman named Alice, for those who have gotten this far into my review and are still wondering. Instead, the protagonist is more of a free-spirited naïf living out Alice in Wonderland. Make no mistake, Alice’s sister’s name is Dorothy, and she probably lives inside her daydreams of the Merry Old Land of Oz. It’s basically “Amélie”, except “Amélie” is a newer movie, its fantasy elements are far less exaggerated, and it’s a much better slice of entertainment. “Alice” is funny, hither and thither. At the very least, it does try. When it’s too lazy to do just that, it recycles old jokes. My all-time favorite one-liner from any Woody Allen comedy has always been from “Manhattan”: “I think people should mate for life, like pigeons or Catholics.” Yep, that one’s butchered in this movie. “Alice” is a semi-complete disappointment. Clearly, there was potential for a good movie here. It just didn’t happen. Woody Allen has spent every cinematic effort since 1966 playing different variations around the same minor key. “Alice” has a flavorful array of notes, but it lacks the chords that would have made that melody appealing.
À bout de souffle
ALICE IS AVAILABLE ON DVD AND VHS.