Hollywood Ending

Woody Allen and Téa Leoni in <em>Hollywood Ending</em>

Woody Allen has always been nostalgic and a sentimentalist, but only

lately has he seemed completely outdated. In the context of his recent

work, Hollywood Ending is something of a success-a mild

comedy about the movie industry with a few healthy laughs. Allen plays

Val Waxman, a temperemental has-been auteur who gets hired on a

potential comeback picture on the strength of lobbying inside the

studio by a former lover (Téa Leoni) who has since become engaged to a

studio exec. Naturally, many things go wrong.

In terms of movie-about-moviemaking cliches, it’s all here-the

pathetically untalented starlet, the money-minded producer, the bit

player throwing herself at the director, the on-set bickering. The

film’s mileage is entirely dependent on goodwill for Allen himself, who

seems to be taking gentle potshots at his own career. (In that respect,

Hollywood Ending is similar to but way less cutting than the angry self-justification of Deconstructing Harry.)

Val asks if the film can be shot in black and white, and is gently

rebuffed. Val hires a Chinese director of photography, just as Allen

himself did (Fei Zhao, who shot Zhang Yimou’s Raise the Red Lantern, photographed Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown, Small Time Crooks, and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion).

And the film Val is making is such a Woody Allen fantasy project–a

gangster movie set in New York during the 1940s–that it seems awfully

anachronistic in the context of a movie about the machinations of

contemporary Hollywood.

Hollywood Ending does return to a certain comfort level

that the last few Allen films hadn’t quite reached. Setlling into this

one feels once again like being in the company of an old friend, albeit

one who’s grown a little forgetful and doddering with the years. His

enduring distaste for punk rock seems irrelevantly conservative, his

limp swipe at the video industry is misplaced and gratuitous, and his

continued casting of himself against sexual interests 40 years his

junior would seem ludicrous if we didn’t know exactly how young Allen

actually likes ’em. Still, there’s something reassuring about watching

Woody Allen mistake one of Tiffani-Amber Thiessen’s breasts for a throw

pillow. If you can’t smile at that, perhaps the terrorists have already

won.

What’s most frustrating is the sense that Hollywood Ending could have

been quite a bit better than it actually is. At 114 minutes, it’s

decisively lacking in the brevity that used to characterize Allen’s

pictures-even the super-serious, Bergman-inspired stuff. Worse, his

timing seems to be off-the filmmaker who was once notorious for cutting

his films to the absolute bone now gives us rambling, overlong shots

featuring performers who almost seem to be ad libbing their dialogue. I

ran to the Internet Movie Database to investigate, and discovered what

may be the problem–Susan Morse is gone. Morse, the editor who had

worked with Allen since Manhattan in 1979 and who turned into a real

soldier by the time of the jazzy montage that characterized

Deconstructing Harry, was reportedly a victim of budget-cutting within

the ranks. (Since Sweet and Lowdown, his editor has been Alisa

Lepselter.)

Longtime cinematographer Carlo DiPalma and costume designer

Jeffrey Kurland have also vanished from the credit rolls. That’s too

bad–Allen may be a bona fide auteur, but like all films, his live or die

on the strength of the collaboration that brings them to life. Wouldn’t

it have been something if Allen had made a film about a movie director

who goes unexpectedly blind and then churns out a masterpiece anyway,

based on the craft and dedication of the crewmembers whom he takes for

granted, but who have always watched his back on a film-by-film basis? B-

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