Bullets over Broadway

Movie Review #799: A side-splitting script and phenomenal acting make this a whole lot better than it deserves to be.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano
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Comedy, Crime, Drama
Rated R (contains alcohol use, profanity)
98 minutes

“You stand on the brink of greatness. The world will open to you like an oyster. No… not like an oyster. The world will open to you like a magnificent vagina.” – Dianne Wiest in the role of Helen Sinclair

“Bullets over Broadway” tells the story of a Broadway writer who is struggling to get what he wants out of his cast and crew.  He’s just the writer, and he’s learning how little authority he actually has with that role in a theatrical production.  Even after he finds a gangster to finance the production, rather than a renowned producer who believes it’ll fail, he still struggles in expressing his creative genius.  50% of this acts as Woody Allen’s semiautobiographical work.  Allen wrote “What’s New Pussycat” in 1965, but did not direct it and did not produce it, and found that his script was butchered by the studios and, in fact, was barely the same movie.  Allen never wrote a movie after that without also directing it, and he chooses producers specifically on the premise that they will allow his creative genius without worrying about whether it will succeed at the box office.

The other 50% is a black comedy that wants to be “The Producers”.  It’s certainly not the timeless comedy that that one was, but it earns just as many laughs.  The film’s humor flows rather rigidly, in a sense that the laughs come and go, but when they come, they come all too greatly.  I have to compliment the cast for this–Dianne Wiest, in particular.  Not to shortchange the grand deliveries of Chazz Palminteri or Jennifer Tilly (who both earned Oscar nominations for their performances), but Dianne Wiest (who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress) shines in a persona we’ve never really seen her in before.  There’s something witty about her delivery, which insists that Broadway actresses are always as theatrical as they are onstage.  Three times, by my count, she had an ostentatious “Don’t speak!” moment, and none were performed onstage.  This is Wiest’s fifth collaboration with Woody Allen, and I’m surprised I can’t recall her performances in earlier movies.  This is also her last collaboration with the director to date, and if anything, she’s finished off dynamically.

Woody Allen sometimes comes up with the best writing when he has another individual working on the script with him.  Four of his most successful films stand as proof: “Take the Money and Run”, written by Allen and Mickey Rose; and the trio of “Sleeper”, “Annie Hall”, and “Manhattan”, written by Allen and Marshall Brickman.  I’m not saying it’s preferable, but it can reduce some of the formula that seem to turn many off to Woody Allen’s movies.  This is also true of “Bullets over Broadway”, a written effort by Allen and Douglas McGrath.  (This being the latter’s first produced screenplay.)  The humor seems to act as a cue for two of Allen’s followup works, “Mighty Aphrodite” (1995) and “Deconstructing Harry” (1997).  While it’s not quite as dark as those two, it’s a terrifically nonchalant black comedy.  For instance, a murder happens in an early scene, and seconds later, no one is talking about the dead body in front of them; in fact, they’re complaining about how they’re so hungry and they want to go out for some dinner.  It’s kind of a jump for Woody Allen, but him having another writer with him seems to help.

My one complaint about the script is that it offers atrocious pacing.  Like I’ve said, the comedy isn’t constant, and when we’re not laughing, the movie can drag a little.  By the time we get to the “Reservoir Dogs”-esque climax, we’re waiting for it to be over.  Though even in the movie’s dull spots, the soundtrack seems to give it flavor.  Even the barely heard excerpts of 1920’s songs like Cole Porter’s “Let’s Misbehave” seem to make the movie more lively than it really deserves to be.  (And really, it doesn’t deserve to be any more than what it seems to be: “The Producers” with a twist.)  “Bullets over Broadway” is a pleasant surprise.  This is a movie you don’t really expect much of, and seemingly, it offers more than it has. ✴

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