All that neurosis

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Woody Allen directing Marion Cotillard, Allison Pill, and Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris

Messy thoughts on modern Woody Allen.

I can’t. It’s like watching your grandfather imitate his younger self, but trying to be hip and happenin’, and sometimes succeeding beautifully, and sometimes failing rather miserably.

Although Midnight in Paris is incredibly charming, I can’t decide whether or not Owen Wilson is miscast. I understand all the reasons why Allen would cast him, but Wilson will never be convincing as a character who is infatuated with 1920s Paris. I can’t speak for Wilson, the person, but he certainly does not look like someone who would stutter in the presence of Hemingway and Fitzergald. Strangely enough, however, I can’t seem to think of any other actor who could have done a better job than Wilson.

I don’t think I expected to like Vicky Cristina Barcelona at all. It has an obnoxious narration, to start off with. It’s also about pretentious, beautiful, wealthy people with careers in the arts and culture and their ultimate first world problems. Even more bloated with those qualities than previous Allen films. Sure, I like watching and reading stories about glamorous lifestyles, but sometimes it upsets me because I start to wonder: Are these stories even worth telling? Of people who sit around all day and contemplate whether or not they should have affairs or leave their fiance(e)s and husbands and wives and get back together with their ex- wives and husbands and write novels and pursue careers in photography? Assuming people who work in the arts are living their dream–to hear characters with those careers complain about how difficult their lives are is just upsetting. But I think Allen’s talent lies in making his characters–who I would probably slap if I ever met them in real life–interesting to listen to, especially in the confined space of Allen’s imagination. Vicky Cristina Barcelona is wildly entertaining and shows off beautiful Spanish sights, which saves it from what it really is: ambitiously romantic fluff.

Is it weird that I kind of like Anything Else more than Annie Hall? Hear me out: They keep getting compared among Allen fans, even though Annie, as played by Diane Keaton, is charming and sweet, but Amanda, as played by Christina Ricci, is painfully frustrating to watch. I mean, I hate Amanda, she is an awful human being, and I think watching Jason Biggs attempting to tackle the constant neurosis of a Woody Allen script is like watching a young Leonardo DiCaprio talk in Shakespeare, but I find Anything Else a lot funnier than Annie Hall.

While Biggs seems to nervously prod along in the film, the dialogue between Biggs’ character and the Woody Allen character–with a very good performance by Allen himself–is very well-written and oftentimes, the lines are very well-delivered. I think I enjoy those scenes between Biggs and Allen more than I enjoy any scene in Annie Hall. Not that I think the film itself is vastly superior or anything, I just think there is some very fine comedic writing involved that would have been better utilized in another film. That’s all.

I actually think a more fitting comparison for Anything Else is probably 500 Days of Summer, though 500 Days of Summer is often compared to Annie Hall because Anything Else is nowhere as popular. No, I think the people who compare movies (active members of IMDb) are getting it all wrong. When Harry Met Sally is the child of Annie Hall–the happier, more well-adjusted child, I might add. 500 Days of Summer is a more saturated, hipster version of Anything Else. I say this because Annie is nowhere as obnoxious as Amanda or Summer. Amanda and Summer are unbearable people while Annie, at the very least, is likable.

When people speak of the low quality of modern Woody, I think You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger should be the poster child of that campaign. It is so boring, so pretentious, so microwaved. It’s a soap opera, heavily marinated with Allen’s favorite topic–infidelity–tailored to Allen’s famous nihilism. And it’s not funny or interesting at all. Save for a few performances, namely of Naomi Watts and Gemma Jones, it’s a star-studded mess. And it has that terrible narration device that is used in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Can Allen see that his characters already talk enough?

There seems to be some underground adoration for Whatever Works, which is surprising to me. I think it ranks among Allen’s worst films, probably even worse than You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger. And I say this as a huge fan of Larry David–both as a writer on Seinfeld (favorite show ever) and actor on Curb Your Enthusiasm. It just strikes me as such a weird, uneven, and unfunny film–perhaps too sunny for its own good. While I love David as his honest, relatable, and sometimes obnoxious alter ego on Curb Your Enthusiasm, his character in Whatever Works is just so completely unlikable. I realize that May-December romances are another one of Allen’s favorite things, but Larry David and Evan Rachel Wood are no Woody Allen and Mariel Hemingway. It also has a really absurd happy ending that feels kind of tacked on and untrue to the tone of the film.

I think I’m still waiting for the day that Woody Allen makes another Hannah and Her Sisters. Which is as unfair as all those folks expecting Allen to make another Annie Hall, but I can’t help myself.

While we are on the topic, how is To Rome with Love?

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