Ah yes, Woody Allen. The guy who pumps out a film per year, whether he has anything to say or not. This film got quite tepid to unfavorable reviews when it was out, but there it was for free on my flight back from Amsterdam, and, after turning off Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps at 30 minutes in, the prospect of watching it started to look not that bad. Besides, it's Woody Allen, who is still in his London phase, so how bad could it be?
Turns out it could be worse, and while on a plane with nothing but time to kill, perfectly amiable company. Had I devoted time and money to seeing this in the theater, however, hoo boy, different story.
We open with the exact same white-on-black credits in the same type face and the same noodley jazz playing as opens every single Woody Allen film. One can understand wanting all your films to have the equivalent of matching spines when lined up on the virtual bookshelf, but there's also something to be said for conveying, even if falsely, the impression that this one MIGHT be a little bit different. We have the now-expected someone else doing the Allen-esque voice-over [a very dull-voiced whoever it is], who quotes Shakespeare from MacBeth saying that life is a a tale told to an idiot, signifying nothing. The movie will come back to this, only you'll be a lot more annoyed by the time you're there.
We meet Gemma Jones as Helena, older woman who goes to see a psychic who tells her she sees good things in her future. Helena was left by Anthony Hopkins as Alfie [surely a reference to the famed Michael Caine film], who had a late-life crisis and suddenly started working out, tanning and driving convertibles. They are parents to Naomi Watts as Sally, who is married to Josh Brolin as Lloyd, a writer who has never been able to match the success of his first novel.
So Sally starts to be attracted to her new boss, played by Antonio Banderas. Meanwhile, Lloyd is attracted to Dia, the musician in the apartment opposite theirs. They meet dad Alfie's new girlfriend, who is a third his age. When you see her you think "Oh, I bet she was a prostitute he fell in love with," and this is soon revelealed to be exactly the case. But look--how nice to see Fenella Woolgar, if only for a short time.
Well, dear reader, we always want the one we can't have, and the grass is always greener on the other side, and you don't know what you've got till it's gone, and any number of other cliches you can think of. Everyone in this movie yearns for the one they don't have and devalue the one they do, and, over the course of the film, come to find that maybe what they had in the first place wasn't so bad. It's all amusing enough, and most of the characters and scenes ring fairly true to varying degrees--the best being a volatile moment with tensions between Lloyd, Sally and Helena at a head--and then it ends. No wrap-up, no resolution, just ends, showing us a set amount of time in these characters' lives, and cutting off when the allotted time is over, without narrative resolution. Then the voice over comes back, reminds us that this film is like what Shakespeare said--a meaningless tale told to an idiot. And that, by the way, makes YOU the idiot.
One just never knows with Allen, who can come out of nowhere with a really well-composed and moving film like Vicky Cristina Barcelona, then come out with something like this, not unpleasant, just pointless. I was never bored and I engaged with the characters, but when we got to the end and I saw that all of this is going to just cut off and not have much to say that hasn't been printed on a thousand greeting cards, I began to feel a little resentful of the waste of my time--and I was on a seven-hour flight with nowhere else to go, and was watching this for free.
You know, Woody, you really don't HAVE to put out a movie every year. I think we'd all appreciate your waiting until you have a film worth making, and worth our seeing. It's unclear why Allen would want to clutter his filmography with so much inconsequential fluff, as opposed to a tighter selection of gems, but I guess he can do whatever he wants at this point. I just wish they'd put a big disclaimer on the poster: "You know what, folks, you can skip this one. Just did it to keep myself busy, and we're throwing it out there as a tax write-off. Pay it no mind."
Anyway, if you're unsure whether we as humans always feel the grass is greener on the other side, or need confirmation of other popular cliches, please feel free to watch this. If on the other hand you're up-to-date on your romantic cliches, you might use your time watching something that has some point.
I'm sure you've got better things to do with your time.