Movie Review #804: ‘September’ is inventive, terribly underseen, and by many sheerly misunderstood.

By Alexander Diminiano

Rated PG (contains mature themes, sexual content, alcohol use)
82 minutes

Writer-director Woody Allen describes his seventeenth opus “September” as “a play on film.” The wording fits it perfectly. Carlo Di Palma’s cinematography is filled with long takes, spotlights on characters against blackened backgrounds, and swish-pans that evoke a 1950s melodrama. The acting is refreshingly different but nonetheless dynamic, particularly from the personas of Mia Farrow, Sam Waterston, and Dianne Wiest. The script sings so somber in its dialogue, hyphenated by the pitter-pattering of rain. No director can make such a unique sort of film with ease, and “September” is the result of trial and error. It was shot twice, with two different casts and two different scripts.

There’s a lot of Woody Allen formula here. The pill-popping female neurotic, the extramarital affair, the admiration for New York City lifestyle. The talk of modern Western European metropoles and classical Eastern European art, literature, and music. While the movie serves as an homage to Ingmar Bergman’s “Autumn Sonata”, it takes much of its plot from Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Throughout this soap opera is the crisis a woman faces as she tries to sell her house in Vermont. That’s amid her emotional crises. Her neighbor is falling in love with her, but she’s already in a relationship with a different man, who is at the moment falling in love with the woman’s best friend, who is married with children.

This is perhaps the soapiest Woody Allen has gotten, and while the movie isn’t wrought with tension (see my review of “Interiors”), it’s not a happy watch. This is a drama, not a comedy, and if there’s anything funny about it, it’s the naiveté of every character on the screen. The movie sometimes comes off as a caricature. It’s not exactly worth complaining about, given the “play on film” approach. Though there is something misfortunate about the fact that “September” is well-represented by its title. It’s a great movie, but the atmosphere is so frigid that it’s more than likely going to leave you cold. ✴


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