Friday, August 9, 2013
It's always a treat to see the latest Woody Allen film. It's one event I look forward to every year. To me they're comfort food. Allen's films have a trademark look and feel that just makes me feel at home. I find comfort in the familiarity of the soundtrack, the opening credits of white text on black, and of course the Allen-esque line delivery common to almost all his films. Of course they're not all classics. Last year's 'To Rome with Love' was largely considered a lesser Allen work. But it still gave me my annual Allen fix even if it was fairly forgettable. Fortunately his latest is a return to the more brilliant writing of his career, blending comedy and tragedy in a way that so few filmmakers are capable.
Cate Blanchett plays a woman who went from riches to rags and now she needs to adapt to her new life as she temporarily stays with her estranged sister, played by Sally Hawkins. As usual for Allen's films, the casting is brilliant. Sure, we all know Blanchett can act. But this is probably her best performance to date, really digging deep and embodying this character who has experienced so much trauma. And yes, Alec Baldwin is always great, but he's really great here as her rich and successful picture perfect husband. Of course, Hawkins and Bobby Cannavale are charmers as usual, but who knew that comedians Andrew Dice Clay and Louis C.K. could act as well? Turns out they can, under the right direction, and with the right material.
I loved the film, though as a critic I can usually find at something to criticize. And the area I had trouble with here was Allen's choice to use his trademark zippy oldies tunes as background for a few otherwise dramatic and fairly painful scenes thereby, in my opinion, weakening those moments. It was clearly an artistic choice but I'd personally love to see how the film would play with a more dramatic score, or perhaps no score at all, particularly towards the end.
Lastly, be forewarned: Don't expect the feel good experience that was 'Midnight in Paris'. There are plenty of laughs, but at heart this is a tragedy disguised as a comedy. But if you like a little down with your up and appreciate Allen's playwright style then don't miss this one.