Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Sooner Or Later Everything Turns To Shit.

I’ve never been much of a Woody Allen fan, traditionally, but I think a lot of that comes down to the fact that I started really discovering cinema during the late 90s and early 00s, during Allen’s ‘lesser’ filmmaking. I didn’t know his films when he was churning them out at a rate of knots and clocking up Oscar nom after Oscar nom (21 by my count, mostly as writer, with three wins), and he was yet to have that little renaissance he’s been earning lately with films like Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona (both films I generally enjoyed, definitely the latter - Penelope Cruz was fantastic.)

So I thought I’d start trying to see some of his earlier works, the works that made him who is he is now, an auteur of note, if as much for the number of films he makes as to the repeated quality of them.

Husbands And Wives is where I’m kicking off. Allen plays Gabe, a college professor married to Judy (Mia Farrow.) They have married friends Sally (Judy Davis) and Jack (Sydney Pollack) over for dinner, and Sally and Jack announce that they are splitting up, quite amicably. This starts Gabe and Judy looking at their own relationship and what they want, with Jack and Sally going through the trauma and torment of starting new lives in the single world, trying not to get too upset when the other starts to see someone else (though they don’t try particularly hard.)

It’s an interesting film. I’m not a huge fan of Allen performing (from the few Allen titles I’ve seen, I tend to like those in which he does not appear more than those in which he does), but don’t mind him too much here. Mia Farrow (again, I think she has a very interesting presence, but I’ve just never really loved a performance of hers) is fine as his wife, if a little pathetic, but my highlights were Davis and Pollack. Judy Davis has to be one of the best actresses working, right? I don’t think I’ve seen her in anything where I didn’t at least love her. I remember falling for her in Swimming Upstream, and even her small role in Marie Antoinette was a highlight. I’ve never seen someone curtsey repeatedly with such disdain, yet at the same time showing a requisite amount of respect.

She’s terrific in this role, as an often hysterical, cerebral spurned wife. She balances crazy just right, deserving of her Oscar nom for this film (why hasn’t she been nominated more? Why? Seriously. She’s so terrific. All the time.) Pollack pulls through with bravura and marginalised masculinity, making the most of his scene intruding on Sally’s date with new man Michael (Liam Neeson.)

Still, there’s something a little too… self-indulgent about Allen films, I think. Especially when he’s in them. They seem very smug-clever. Very holier than thou. And I find that a little frustrating. One day I’ll understand the appeal, but not today. 2.5 stars.

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