In a World …..Where Woody Still Made Good Movies

I’m not a movie critic. Those guys seem to notice all the arcane details of how, what and who makes a movie with multiple references to genre and camera work. They call them films, but I prefer being entertained, occasionally seeing real life reflected, and sometimes even educated or enlightened.

I’ve been telling myself, and everybody else who’ll listen, that I’m never going to another Woody Allen movie. “To Rome with Love” should’ve been the last straw, but I kept reading that Cate Blanchett was not to be missed in “Blue Jasmine”-the title should have been enough to warn me off-so I went.

My movie-going podna-as the young folk say-was taken aback by the ending. “That’s it?” she said. Yep, that was it. The supposed remake of “Streetcar” left us cold and a bit empty with Cate’s overacting getting on my nerves as much as Bobby Cannavale’s gesticulating. I saw homes and views in San Francisco that I have never seen before, and I’m not sure they actually exist. Ok, I take that back, somebody lives on the edge of the City/Marin somewhere and has those beautiful if cliched views (if views can be cliched) of the Golden Gate Bridge.

If her acting had been all that Oscar-worthy as folks are saying, Blanchett would have been lying comatose in SF General, as many pills as she popped, by the middle of that opus. Did she demonstrate layers of emotion and vulnerability? She was vulnerable alright but since she was a character completely without depth, she could not show what was clearly not there. Come’on, people.

And then there was Sally Hawkins, Brit comedy star, playing the Salt of the Earth mom who on a grocery store cashier’s wage lives in a large, sunny flat somewhere in the Mission? Really?

I read a review that said that it was a welcome change from Woody’s constant chronicling of the 1% of the 1% to see him toast the working class. On the contrary, it is just the other side of the same coin to pretend to laud the noble working class when you can’t remember having met any of them since, maybe your 20’s, while glorifying their pureness of heart with your silly stereotypes.

But we who loved Woody must admit that a big reason for watching him flutter through his best films, was because of his arrogance and his witty put-downs of regular people-people who seemed happy, therefore, shallow. In those days he was good at promoting the struggling artists, comics, and lovers who couldn’t quite fit in because fitting in meant you had given up and given in. Now, all his leads are sad sacks who want to go back to some rosy era where they fought the good fight and won because, he made us think that misfits deserved to win or at least get the girl. More on that later.

After suffering through Blue Jasmine, I went, without much investment, to see Lake Bell, in her very own writing, directorial, and acting debut in the new film (oops there I go), “In a World.”

It reminded me most of the old Woody Allen-in the days when he made cute, somewhat nonsensical movies that made you laugh while identifying with the main characters, and sometimes made you think a little bit but just a little bit. “In a World” has all the sophisticated put-downs that literate underdogs make against the unconscious but conventionally attractive and, one assumes, conventionally successful, blonde American heroes.

The ending is a bit too pat in which family values win re “Hannah and her Sisters.” But like the old Woody,it’s full of a million little asides that are funnier than anything you’ve heard since, say, Sleeper, although it is not a fantasy like that one.

While the tone of all the characters’ dialogue is similar to that of the writer/director’s speaking style that’s as you would expect. But when you watch Woody’s movies with new, younger and much more attractive leads, you tire of them all sounding and looking just like Woody. They stutter, they flutter, they stammer and cast their eyes downward. That only worked with Woody because it was true to his nebbishy self.

What was never believable was his easy way with very attractive women but since he was making the movies, hey, that was his right. In Woody’s world, no one seemed ever to work either, much less consider how they’d pay rent on their beautiful and spacious apartments. Well realism was never his strong suit. I guess I can believe Woody with Diane Keaton who is just neurotic enough to have fallen in love with him.

But here’s the other thing. Woody gets big kudos for offering grown women starring roles, never mind that most of his women are either ball breakers or neurotic beyond basic-survival-believability or just stupid/naive, waiting for him to show them how to live; worse yet, everyone since Diane sounds like her. And please don’t tell me I’m the only one who’s noticed that.

So here’s Lake Bell, her own, nervous, flip-floppy self, but I believed her. The fact that she makes herself look conventionally unattractive when she has the big-jawed, broad-shouldered look that is currently considered very attractive, makes her all the more loveable-kinda like the old schlimielly (word?) guy Woody almost was, almost.

The best part is that she takes the subject of male-domination in the entertainment field, that of voice-overs-a field that has less excuse than most of being male-dominated-and skewers it. In the end she sort of wins out in a way that is just bittersweet enough to be satisfying without being silly.

So, ok, it’s a first film and has some sore spots, some useless vignettes, and a little too much general hand waving. Had it been made by Woody though, it would’ve been called a masterpiece as many of his recent ones have been called, except for “to Rome with Love” which most critics could barely bring themselves to review. “Midnight in Paris, a nice little movie, was called a comeback (the latest of many) to that level of film making. No, sorry, it was very cute but no “Annie Hall.” I liked it- then I forgot it.

Yeah, “In a World” will not stay with me for much longer but I was still moved by the struggling, funny, smart woman who was beginning to make her way in life and love. Sorry, I am no longer moved by Woody’s bitchy/greedy or conversely pure-minded but lost heroines anymore than I am by his phony class stereotypes.

And by the way, Blue Moon was the song playing when Jasmine aka Jeanette and Alec Baldwin met? Every time she said that I felt my head spinning so much that I got a crick in my neck. So I checked the internets, true to Woody’s nostalgia for the good ole, old days, it was written in 1934. The version I remember was made in 1961, but he just had to get that in, didn’t he? Couldn’t someone tell him that his Dixieland riffs and 30’s nostalgia music has become tedious and even jarring?

So, yeah, this time I really mean it, no more Woody shuffling around with the .5 percenters and occasionally slumming it in a $2500 a month apartment on the “bad” side of town. I look forward to female leads who are slightly goofy, with an edge of arrogance mixed with insecurity and, most of all, entertaining-if Lake Bell continues to make movies, that is, movies but maybe not films.

7 thoughts on “In a World …..Where Woody Still Made Good Movies

  1. Lady, you are an amazing woman. Perhaps even more amazing than your mother. I love the “In a World …… Where Woody Still Made Good Movies.

  2. Love your review!

    I swore after Midnight in Paris I would never go to another Woody Allen movie, but relented because a friend really wanted to see it. In Midnight in Paris, when Owen Wilson told his beyond annoying fiance she looked “fetching”, I swear I heard Woody Allen’s voice. Sigh. As in most Woody Allen movies, the characters in Blue Jasmine are irritating caricatures.

    Woody is tone deaf when it comes to SF. He certainly didn’t capture the vibrancy and grubbiness that is the Mish and most of the cast sounded like they came from Brooklyn. Ginger’s boyfriend Chili sounds like what my East Coast friends would call a Guido from Jersey. His unfortunate haircut is something you would never, ever see here.

    The fact that Jeanette/Jasmine is computer illiterate is ridiculous. My 92yo father is computer literate. Jasmine has an iPhone, for heaven’s sake. What 40something NYC society woman doesn’t use a computer at home and have an iPad mini in a designer case with her at all times? She’d be tweeting and texting and emailing. It gets worse when she gets a job in a dental office that doesn’t have a computer. What 40something dentist would have a hand written appointment book? We won’t even think about billing. The creepy dentist is wearing a wedding ring, yet that never gets mentioned when he asks Jasmine to have a drink with him or when he grabs her in the office.

    Okay, so a woman Jasmine is taking a beginning computer class with, invites her to a party. Mind, we don’t know much about this woman, but we are supposed to believe this 40ish woman, whose boyfriend is an attorney and appears bright and professional, also needs a beginning computer class? Was she held prisoner in a cave in Afghanistan for the last 20 years?

    The apartment where the party is held looks kind of frumpy and the people there run the gamut from working class to upper crust. We are supposed to believe that Dwight, a wealthy man in the foreign service with political aspirations, would be at the same party as Al, the working class sound guy. Dwight would be at one of the Getty’s parties, not at a party thrown by a friend of some woman Jasmine met at a computer class.

    First, we have to believe there is a wealthy, straight, single, eligible man in his 40s in SF who hasn’t been snatched up by one of the bevy of society beauties SF is lousy with. We are also supposed to believe that Dwight would be smitten with Jasmine and decide to propose to her without checking her bona fides or doing a basic google search. SF society folk know and socialize with NYC society folk. They all toddle off to the Met Ball, among other functions on the social circuit. Surely he would wonder why he hadn’t heard of Jasmine and wonder why they didn’t know some of the same people. He would certainly ask whose house in the Hamptons she had decorated.

    More suspension of disbelief required. We are supposed to believe that Hal, this incredibly narcissistic man, hung himself in prison. It would have been more believable if his son had, as one of Madoff’s did. Then there’s the stupid back and forth between Chili and his friend about how Hal hung himself in prison. Did he use a belt? Anyone (even a dimwit) who has ever watched an episode of “Prison Break” knows prisoners don’t get to wear belts or have shoelaces. The dubious fashion trend of wearing over-sized pants that are falling down aka “sagging” started with prison inmates in over-sized pants with no belts and moved to hip hop culture. Of course, expecting a man who picks “Blue Moon” as Hal and Jasmine’s song to be in any way current is silly on my part.

    As you said, Woody has Sally living in the big sunny apartment in the Mission on a checker’s salary, yet she acts like the iPod Al gives her is a BMW. I was cringing at the scene when Sally leaves the long line of customers standing in the check-out line and goes to the produce department to stack tomatoes. Her boss, unfazed by this, tries to calm the agitated Chili. What a world Mr. Allen must live in.

    “Woody gets big kudos for offering grown women starring roles, never mind that most of his women are either ball breakers or neurotic beyond basic-survival-believability or just stupid/naive, waiting for him to show them how to live; worse yet, everyone since Diane sounds like her. And please don’t tell me I’m the only one who’s noticed that.”

    Spot on!

    I’m looking forward to checking out, “In a World”. The trailer looks intriguing.

  3. Pamela —you have written a more informed, insightful and entertaining review than most local (and even international) “critics.” Let’s hope you continue it.
    Did you know that Woody Allen has made more movies in SF than anywhere else outside of NY?
    His first true directorial film TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN and the play he wrote and then starred in the movie directed by Herbert Ross, PLAY IT AGAIN SAM.What film lover could forget that opening scene at the beloved and much missed Surf Theatre as they watch the end of CASABLANCA?

    And while thinking of neighborhood theaters I hope we often remind readers to always look to attending movies at the Grand Lake and nearby New Pakway and Piedmont Theatres before using gas and polluting the air to drive to the megaplex that does not pay taxes to Oakland.
    Gary Meyer

    • Gary, I agree about our local theaters but have to admit to enjoying the experience at the refurbished Alameda Theatre & Cineplex, even though cineplex is a horrible term for a suburban box theater. I’m glad you brought up those movies. I loved “Take the Money & Run” (“What’s that, that looks like gub not gun”)and “Play it Again Sam”, also “Bananas.”

  4. Pingback: 2013 Films in Review, an Oakland Experience, Part II | Drake Talk Oakland

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