I may be over Woody Allen.
I know, I know. I was surprised, too. There was a time when Manhattan (1979) was far and away my favorite movie. I loved everything about it. I was in love with the knock-off music they used for the DVD menu, for crying out loud.
The release of his movies, which have long-since stopped attracting the attention that other, more toy robot-centered studio flicks currently enjoy, were practically a religious holiday for me. It helped that one could count on a new entry in the canon each year. When I lived in Stillwater, which never ran his movies at the local Carmike, I would venture out to Tulsa to be sure to catch the movies for the week they ran at the AMC Southroads. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), Whatever Works (2009), Anything Else (2003). You name it. I was there. If you made a pie chart of Allen’s box office gross in Oklahoma, a very clear sliver of the circle would be me and whoever I talked into being my date for the evening. All right, there were rarely dates, but a fella can dream, can’t he?
I know, I know… There’s a certain amount of ugliness that can orbit around Woody fandom. He did marry the adopted daughter of his longtime girlfriend, Mia Farrow. That’s… pretty undeniably not great. Worse still, one of the children he adopted with Farrow maintains that he sexually abused her. This is terrible, but he insists the abuse never occurred and charges were not brought against him. This isn’t an article about his unsettling personal life. I don’t know what to believe about the more heinous accusations against the man, and believe me, I’ve given them their due consideration.
This is more about how his films and I have parted ways. People have been saying that his movies suck for years. I had written off Bill Maher as an asshole* when he devoted a “New Rule” to his assessment that any movie Allen made after Annie Hall (1977) was lousy, and that actors needed to stop clamoring to work with him, but for years I believed the guy made more entertaining fare at a faster rate than anyone else working in film.
Then came Café Society. Circle Cinema has been running the movie for weeks, and I’ve been meaning to go the entire time. I finally got to a screening** and… And…
The movie is fine. It’s not one of his punishingly dour dramas, of which there are a few, but something didn’t connect for me. Maybe its that he decided to shoot on digital for the first time***. It might be that, with a budget of $30 million, Allen’s most expensive film was destined to be become his most distant. Ultimately, though, I think it’s mainly because I’m over his movies. I’m certainly over his stock characters.
The main character, Jesse Eisenberg**** professes his love for Kristen Stewart despite having a wife and child at home. He isn’t the only character in the movie that sleep-walks through cheating on their spouse. First, and this may make me sound like a square, but there isn’t an ounce of romance to infidelity. His characters blithely, almost mindlessly opt for cheating on partners often guilty of no transgression against them whatsoever. I’m not sure what time in my life I might have found that appealing, but it certainly isn’t now.
Then there’s the whole murder thing. While Allen deals deftly in Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) with the notion of an otherwise-respectable person morally accepting the fact that he is responsible for a murder, but he deals with the subject again in Match Point (2005), and here again he touches on it with the amount of focus normally reserved for a vine*****. I’m fairly convinced that Allen killed a hobo in the mid-80s and has been so far unsuccessful in working out his angst over the topic through his screenplays. Regardless of whether or not Woody is secretly a serial killer, the theme has moved from intriguing to decidedly not universal.
I’ll probably still see his movies as they are released, although I may not make a point of seeing them in the theaters. I’m intrigued by his upcoming Amazon TV series Crisis in Six Scenes, but I’m not holding out a lot of hope. He is advancing in years, but I still hope he has a few more films like Midnight in Paris (2011)****** in him before he either retires or passes away. He may yet be able to surprise us; it’d be pretty terrific if someone near the end of his career could still try new things. It would mean there’s hope for the rest of us.
*Maher is an asshole, and an increasingly unfunny one at that. It’s a strange assessment for me to come to, as I essentially agree with most of the things he says.
**It was only as I wrote this article that I realized I somehow missed one of Allen’s movies, 2015’s Irrational Man. Apparently I’ve been over his movies for a couple of years now and never realized it.
***My quest to defend the virtue of real film may be doomed, but it does not mean that it should be surrendered.
****Thankfully, he wasn’t playing Lex Luthor. The guy isn’t always miscast.
*****Vine is still a thing, right? Should I have used snapchat instead? Will someone please tell me which references are hip with the youths of today?
******Man, I really love that movie, but even it seemed like it was pandering to me in a weirdly specific way. Also, I may be going a little over-board on the footnotes this week.