I often say that Woody Allen has never made a film that I don’t like, and couldn’t even if he wanted to. But lately it sometimes seems that he is actually trying to. Starting with Vicky Christina Barcelona, Allen started using off-screen narrators, using young American actors who are not known for doing narration. This worked to some extent in Vicky, since Allen was going for a Henry James innocents abroad feel. In this film, he uses Zak Orth, who had a tiny part in Vicky, as narrator, and it doesn’t really work, as the narration is more or less redundant.
Once again Allen has assembled a huge cast of big-name actors. Veteran actors Anthony Hopkins and Celia Imrie signed on in order to work with Allen, and younger actors Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin and Freida Pinto joined in order to work with Hopkins. But there are so many characters in the film none of them get the chance to do all that much. The only performance that really stands out is that of Lucy Punch, who plays a call girl who Hopkins’ character foolishly falls for and marries. Gemma Jones gives a far more subtle, but charming performance as the wife Hopkins leaves to marry a young tart.
This is a film about people making bad decision, and everyone seems to be making the wrong choices of career, art, relationships and family. Freida Pinto seems to be the sole good character, but she also makes a bad choice that throws her family into chaos. The only person who makes a good decision is the mother, who is told by everyone that she is making the wrong decisions, but ends up a caring relationship with the kind owner of an occult bookshop (eccentric character actor Roger Ashton-Griffiths). This is the one sweet relationship in a film that is filled with disastrous relationships, making me wish it was featured a bit more.
I loved Cassandra’s Dream and Whatever Works, and I saw this only as a slight miss, so I still have hope that Allen has several more good films in him.