Hollywood Ending

Starring:
  •  That Funny, Creepy Old Guy
  •  Sophisticated Masturbation Humor
  • A Disdain for LA

 

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Directed by the Circumcised Edward Burns "Yeah, well the people at the web site said that she was supposed to be Asian. But I figured I'd keep her until they demanded reshipment. Who can blame me?"
 Hey Little Girl. Wanna be in a Woody Allen Film?

Without delving into any kind of Harry Knowles personal anecdote, I will say that May 6, 2002 was a very bad day for me and that may be the reason why I'm giving Woody Allen's new poem to New York, Hollywood Ending, a more passable review than it deserves. Maybe I'm speaking as to the consensus of every Woody Allen fan who lives in Kansas. I should know since all eight of us were in the theatre last night and everyone seemed to have received a funny, yet much-needed infusion of East Coast wit and neuroses. Yes, I laughed quite a bit. I even laughed really hard at certain points. But does that forgive the Woody Allen for, once again, giving in to his most obsessive and irritating impulses as a filmmaker? Does that allow me to forgive a film that works so hard at being funny for the first hour and a half and then realizes that it also needs to be poignant so it throws in about two or three extra plot points in the last thirty five minutes? No, it doesn't do that. But damn that Woody Allen for being so clever and for making me play into his hands as a Midwesterner who needs to feel  some sort of sophistication.

In this film, the Woody Allen subordinate is Val Waxman (Woody Allen). Val is this Woody Allen type director who used to be really popular and well liked (The winner of two Oscars, no less) but then studios got sick of his endless whining and erratic behavior. He screws up some big projects and now he's losing television movie jobs to Peter Bogdonovich. (Thank God someone else has made fun of this guy!) He also has a tendency to date women who are a lot younger than he is. Is any of this starting to sound familiar? And while I think that Allen is trying to make fun of the fact that he likes young women way too much, it still feels disconcerting. When he gets home and we first meet his girlfriend, Lori (Debra Messing from Will and Grace, which may actually be a worse show than Sex and the City), I legitimately thought that it was Val's daughter. But I guess that wouldn't have stopped Woody Allen either. Would it have? Anyway, on the other side of the country, several Galaxy Picture executives are needing a director for their film, The City That Never Sleeps. One of them suggest Val. She happens to be Ellie   (A not as young as Debra Messing but close enough Tea Leoni), Val's ex-wife. The other executives throw their hands up in the air and start rattling off horror stories from the past. The person most upset about this idea is Hal (Treat Williams), the head of Galaxy and Ellie's future husband. Despite their very legitimate concerns, they hire Val for this $60 million project and give the director a shot at studio redemption. Wow, change the title of the script and make the studio Dream Works and it feels even more oddly familiar. Allen even throws in a joke about Miramax. Al (Waxman's agent played by director Mark Rydell): "Why don't you try to set something up with Harvey Weinstein?" Val: "I think he's too busy fasting right now." (As a rule of thumb, Miramax jokes are never unfunny.) If anyone can say anything, Allen certainly is consistent with his  never-completed self portrait of an artist.

It's only when the film gets to the set where it starts to get interesting. And interesting does not always equate neat or well-developed. Val develops psychosomatic blindness and becomes horrified that he'll be banned from the film industry forever if he drops the project. So he fakes sight. He's had to hire a college student (Barney Cheng) as a translator for his Chinese speaking DP and then makes him do double duty as his eyes on the project. It's funny stuff and I see what Allen is doing: Directors have been (a) put on such high pedestals or (b) seen us unnecessary on sets that anything they could bring to a film is going to get lost in the legal wranglings and marketing discussions. Hell, someone could direct a movie with their eyes closed. This creates a lot of great opportunity for Allen to use some really good physical humor that he hasn't employed as much in his older, more "important" days. It really works and there's some really priceless stuff that happens on the set. (One of the best lines is when Val ends up in the dressing room of an actress played by Tiffany Thiessan. "Oh, I don't need a throw pillow. Thank you." I'll let you guess the context of that line.) I can even forgive the fact that Allen always seems to be looking away from someone when he's talking to them. Isn't he just blind and not blind and deaf? Can't he tell where noises are coming from? It just distracted me from what was happening. All the same, it really doesn't get bad until after the  "movie" film has been shot and the "real" script has seemingly forgot to add any substance so it forces some down the tubes. We learn that Val has some family issues that have caused him to be diagnosed with so many psychosomatic problems. Wow! Good thing we knew about all of those before the end so the character could remain balanced. And then, Allen resolves this blindness in a way that seems totally detached from the framework of the story. It was almost Spike Lee-ish in the way Allen had this really great concept and then just wastes it during the execution. Not to mention the Hollywood ending of Hollywood Ending: Even the Woodman die-hards in the audience could see the lack of sincerity and thought that went into the drive into the sunset. And the whole thirty minute "Insta-climax" also goes to re-affirming some of the unpleasant business that I thought Allen had been debunking for the whole film. Does he find this odd and somewhat troubling obsession with women who are nearly fifty years younger than him somewhat clever and dismissable. I don't want to sound like Michael Medved or Ralph Reed here but when I hear Allen talking to his adult son about how, as a teenager, he began "straying away from my values", I wanted to yell at the screen: Don't just stray, young man. Run! Run away from this sicko and his values. Sheesh! Who does Allen think he's kidding?

And despite all of that I still found it funny, the reader may be asking at this point. Sure. Allen gets to go after Hollywood ("Send Haley Joel Osment flowers congratulating him on his Lifetime Achievement Award.") and gets to do some of the broad humor that made him the icon that he is today. Plus, Tea Leoni does a really good job with her material and I think she kept up with Allen better than Mia Farrow did and about as good as Dianne Keaton. (No small compliment.) I can forgive some of that other stuff, sort of. I mean, I am a sucker and I saw Ocean's 11 on a cruddy day and it got into my Top Ten list last year. So call me a hack wanna-be critic or call me an Allen apologist. I don't care. But if any reader out there is in the mood for some good laughs and has a whole lot of forgiveness in their hearts, then maybe it's worth a look. Just watch out for the molester van outside. It could be the director trying to get a "feel" for the audience.

 

 

The Pitch:
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1 and a Half Manhattan
Plus
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1 Cardinal Bernard Law
Equals
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2 and a Half Hollywood Ending
See It For:
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Allen asking Tea when she and David will allow their three-year old to begin dating.