(More Woody Allen: this film review of “Hollywood Ending” appeared in the Australian Jewish News in September 2004.)
Directed and written by Woody Allen
Starring Tea Leoni, Woody Allen, Treat Williams and Mark Rydell
I have been, for the course of my young and middle adult movie-going life, a deep and abiding fan of Woody Allen, who single-handedly created of his own Jewish stereotype and is one of the most enduring icons in Jewish film. It’s true that my first official date driving a car was to a Woody Allen film (“Take the Money and Run”, then playing in Princeton, New Jersey), and he has played an important role in my thinking about film every since.
Like clockwork every year for more than two decades, Allen has directed a film – some better, some worse. But “Hollywood Ending” headed down the quality scale in embarrassing ways, and was not released in Australian cinemas – the first (although not the last) film by Allen to miss a theatrical season and go straight to DVD/video. Diehard fans can now find it in their local DVD shop (as long as they exist, or online) – although it took a full two years to arrive in Australia (that’s right) after its US release in May 2002.
There are few things sadder than a major artistic talent in decline, and the film “Hollywood Ending” has an astonishing double-meaning. The basic story has an “over-the-hill” director, the deeply maladjusted Val Waxman (played by Allen), a former Oscar-winner now shooting commercials in the deep north – Canada. Nobody will work with him until his former wife Ellie (Tea Leonie) convinces her new fiancé and now studio mogul Hal Jaeger (Treat Williams) that Allen is just the person to shoot an intimate New York historical film called “The City That Never Sleeps”. Leonie looks as ravishing as ever, but how many people still believe the movie fiction that the stately thirtysomething Leonie would have been attracted to the neurotic, sagging now seventy-ish Allen?
The main plot point in “Hollywood Ending” is that Val Waxman turns blind just before his film is about to start shooting. Blindness is a favourite Woody Allen theme, and when done well – as in “Crimes and Misdemeanors” – has been astonishingly profound and powerful. Here, it acts as a metaphor for the no-talent Hollywood executives that Allen clearly has been raging at for years. The joke is that, with the assistance of his agent Al (Mark Rydell in a lovingly tuned performance) and the interpreter of the Chinese cinematographer (who does not speak English), Val gets through the
film – although making a royal mess of it along the way.
There are a number of sub-plots, including Val’s new dippy girlfriend, his punk-rock estranged son and a nice cameo from famed clothes designer Isaac Mizrahi. The comedic one-liners are here, usually from Val (Allen) and some stingingly funny, including lots of swipes at contemporary film-making. Performances are mostly fine, but somehow these characters don’t connect sufficiently to make “Hollywood Ending” anything more than a minor film, something to mildly pass the time, and instantly forgettable. The sunset of a career is often not a pretty sight.