Tag Archives: Woody Allen

The Longest Week Review

The Longest Week (2014), directed by Peter Glanz, is an unapologetically derivative comedy/drama that attempts to mimic the genre once dominated by (arguably created by) Woody Allen –the world of affluent yet neurotic New Yorkers. Glanz also picks up stylistic gimmicks from directors such as Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums) and Walt Stillman (Metropolitan, Swingers). Unfortunately, The Longest Week falls far short of anything created by any of these directors, even some of the latter Woody Allen entries.

In a roundabout way, this film reminded me of some of the films that came out in the late 90s and early 00s. Following the success of Pulp Fiction, there was a glut of instantly forgettable Tarantino-influenced films that attempted to mimic that director’s distinctive use of dialogue, violence and time manipulation. Most of them were dismal failures. In a similar way, The Longest Week throws together many of the elements of the best Woody Allen films: impressive décor, wealthy and sophisticated intellectuals suffering from existentialist crises, wayward romances, witty banter and the inevitable sessions with a psychoanalyst -yet it doesn’t add up to anything meaningful or even entertaining.

The film opens with the lead character, Conrad Valmont (Jason Bateman) in a session with his long-suffering analyst. There’s even an Allen-esque Jazz soundtrack in the background, so there’s no doubt what type of film this one is attempting to imitate/pay homage to/rip off/satirize. Another gimmick is a retro atmosphere in the middle of an apparently contemporary New York City. People all seem to use landline rotary phones rather than smartphones.

The entire premise of The Longest Week seems contrived and unbelievable. Valmont, heir to a family who owns a luxurious hotel across from Central Park, has suddenly been cut off from his cozy and idle lifestyle. Somehow, his parents getting divorced means that at almost 40 years old, he is being kicked out of his suite and is suddenly broke. Not only does this seem unlikely, but Bateman himself is unable to convey any real concern here. When he tells a sympathetic chauffeur that this will all soon blow over, the audience cannot help but share this sentiment.

Conrad spends this “longest week” mooching off his equally dissolute friend Dylan (Billy Crudup) and a woman named Beatrice (Olivia Wilde), whom both men are romancing. Despite numerous scenes of angst, arguments and betrayal among these three, nothing is really at stake here. Dylan is a character very similar to Conrad; a successful artist who lives in a huge hipster loft. Beatrice is a model with a likewise cushy New York City lifestyle.

Much of the dialogue that is supposed to be witty is actually quite tedious. Having much of it delivered by an invisible narrator (Larry Pine) is a pointless and overused device that doesn’t help matters here. It only drives in the fact that the characters are unable to convey many things on their own. For example, the narrator has to tell us how irresistible Conrad is to Olivia. Otherwise, how can it be explained that they meet on a subway, when he merely glances at her and she hands him her phone number?

The Longest Week also uses the postmodern device of self-criticism that is designed to make its flaws forgivable. It’s as though Glanz was hedging his bets. If we don’t find the story and characters as charming as they find themselves, we can at least see that the script is clever enough to critique itself. There is even an acknowledgment that Conrad’s “pseudo intellectual” conversations are tedious. The most blatant example of this, however, is towards the end of the film, when Conrad is reading from an autobiographical novel. Someone in the audience delivers a pointed criticism of the book (and hence the film we’re watching), saying that the supposed transformation the protagonist undergoes is trivial.

On a similar note, a minor character (unfortunately) named Jocelyn (Jenny Slate) who is a student of postmodern literary criticism at one point ridicules the banality of the world Conrad, Dylan and Beatrice inhabit. The problem is that Jocelyn, while apparently dismissed as an annoying buzzkill, is actually right on the mark and is actually one of the more likable characters in the movie. If The Longest Week was created as a parody of the kind of films it’s imitating, this type of device might be effective. There’s not, however, enough humor here for it to be considered parody or satire. Much of the supposedly witty dialogue in this film, as well as its many literary references, lack any substance. It’s as though words and references are dropped just to remind us that we’re in sophisticated company.

Dylan, for example, is introduced as an “anti-social socialist.” Whether this is a clever bon mot or not, nothing in the film suggests he is any type of socialist. We meet Beatrice reading a Jane Austen novel. She is supposedly trying to model herself according to the standards of Victorian literature; yet nothing in her manner or actions lends credence to this.

Conrad at one point draws an analogy between his relationship with Beatrice and Pygmalion. Another high-brow literary reference, but one that has nothing to do with the story. Beatrice runs in the same social circles as Conrad and Dylan; she’s not someone who needs to be educated and introduced to high society. Other authors, such as Edith Wharton and F. Scott Fitzgerald are similarly mentioned without purpose -other than to elevate the mood. The same way B action movies throw in pointless car chases, fights and explosions, this film sticks in literary references, impressive architecture and lots of classical music.

Watching The Longest Week actually gives me more appreciation for directors such as Woody Allen. A film like this reveals that it takes more than throwing in a bunch of cultural references and self-consciously witty repartee to create a compelling story. If there is a contemporary director who has managed to take up where Woody Allen left off, it’s probably Noah Baumbach. In his film, Greenberg, for example, Ben Stiller (in one of his best performances) creates the kind of immature, overeducated, underachieving misanthropic character that is somewhere between hero and antihero.

Bateman as Conrad, though he is aiming for something similar here, never manages to pull this off. He is not particularly likable or charming, but he’s not blatantly unlikable either. He just seems like a decent actor doing his best with material that is pointless and futile.

Blue Jasmine Review

In Blue Jasmine (2013), Woody Allen recovers a little of the brilliance his films from the 70s and 80s displayed, while at the same time reminding us that his outlook is dated. Cate Blanchett, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 2014 for her role as Jasmine, is what really turns an interesting idea into a truly compelling movie.

Many reviewers have focused on how heavily Blue Jasmine borrows from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. Indeed, the film follows the basic trajectory of that play quite closely, though changing the setting and dates. This is especially apparent when you consider that Cate Blanchett actually starred in a version of A Streetcar Named Desire only several years ago.

As the film opens, Jasmine is a formerly wealthy New Yorker who is forced to move in with her far less affluent half sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in San Francisco. As we meet Jasmine, she is the picture of decayed elegance as she mutters her life story to a stranger on the plane. Jasmine is alternately condescending and pathetic as she is forced to accept charity from someone she clearly feels is beneath her.

Much of the film consists of flashbacks that reveal Jasmine’s life with her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin), a wealthy but corrupt financier who is eventually arrested. Not only has Hal ruined Jasmine’s life, he has also wreaked havoc on Ginger and her ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) by getting them to invest in a crooked real estate scheme that bankrupts them.

While Blanchett’s performance, along with all of the other characters is brilliant, it’s hard to overlook some of the ways that Woody Allen is out touch. At the time Jasmine and Ginger meet up, Ginger is living in what is apparently the last non-gentrified block in the city of San Francisco. She is raising two boys and working as a stock clerk in a grocery store.

These details illustrate how Woody Allen does not understand how the other half lives. At a time when even white collar workers must share housing in cities like San Francisco, Allen’s notion of poverty is having Ginger inhabit a spacious, bohemian chic apartment that she and her boys have all to themselves (at least until Jasmine shows up).

On a similar note, Jasmine laments how she was forced to move out of Manhattan and into Brooklyn after her husband’s empire collapsed. Allen, as usual, is still living in the 80s, when Brooklyn was still considered a remote “bridge and tunnel” borough that only housed the less fortunate (at least from the insular Upper East Side-centric view of Allen).

Still another example of cultural myopia occurs when Jasmine takes computer classes so she’ll be able to study for an online interior decorating degree. This is, admittedly, a rather minor plot point, but we are supposed to believe that a sophisticated forty-something woman from New York City doesn’t know how to use the internet in the 21st century. This is more a symptom of someone from Allen’s generation rather than Jasmine/Blanchett’s.

The blue collar characters who revolve around Ginger are all borderline anachronistic stereotypes. Fortunately, the actors who play them succeed in making them actual human beings. Andrew Dice Clay, never especially funny as a self-consciously un-PC standup comic in the 80s, has just the right blend of menace and pathos to play Augie, a contractor who allowed himself to be swindled by Hal in a weak moment.

By the time Jasmine arrives, Ginger has begun dating another unstable blue collar type, played by Bobby Cannavale, a possessive, hard-drinking type prone to fits of weeping. As if this wasn’t enough, Ginger has yet a third suitor, played by another (more popular and successful) standup comic, Louis C.K., who infuses his character with just the right amount of nuance.

Jasmine, for her part, is also not lacking in admirers. First, an overly amorous dentist who she works for and then, more promisingly, a suave diplomat who she promptly lies to about her past, which everyone but she can see can only lead to disaster.

Blue Jasmine is certainly not an uplifting film, which is not surprising coming from Allen, who has been more influenced by European cinema than the feel-good Hollywood rom-com tradition. This film, however, doesn’t provide the kind of comic relief that, in many of his earlier works, balanced out the dark existentialism and nihilism. Jasmine is presented as a tragic and irredeemable character who is doomed to live in a world of self-delusion. The film, as much as any other Allen has directed, reveals the director’s cynical view of human nature, one that recalls the ancient Greek truism that “character is destiny.”

Magic in the Moonlight -Latest From Woody Allen

Woody Allen’s latest film sounds like a rehashing of what he’s been dutifully releasing year after year for the last four decades. Magic in the Moonlight has a basic Pygmalion theme and has a glamorous 1920s South of France setting, factors which Allen’s usual upscale and sophisticated (at least by 20th century standards) audience will find hard to resist. I haven’t seen the film and probably will wait until it’s available on Netflix streaming (if ever), so I’ll refer you to what sounds like a trenchant critique of it (see link at the end of this article).

Personally, I’m ambivalent about Woody Allen. It’s hard not to admire some of his films from the 70s and 80s, though even then they were on the verge of being anachronistic, with Allen so fond of quoting Sartre, Freud, Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, a practice he has continued. By the 90s and 00s, it was hard to find much original in even his better efforts. The only differences seem to be that the scenes have shifted mostly from New York to Europe and, rather than starring in his own films, he’s mainly using stand-ins -in the latest case, Colin Firth.

If you consider Allen’s personal life and the recent accusations made against him, you probably would want to avoid his work altogether. I don’t take this stance, because, let’s face it, great art (and great deeds in other aspects of life) have often been created by highly flawed human beings. Additionally, how much do we really know about any of the celebrities and heroes out there, even those with the most pristine images?

My main complaint with Allen is that his work and point of view hasn’t really evolved over the decades. In fairness, though, even a mediocre Woody Allen film is wittier and more entertaining than the average Hollywood romantic comedy, though that’s not saying very much.

In the following article, Kate Arthur and Alison Willmore discuss Magic in the Moonlight, as well as their own views on separating artists’ personal lives from their work.

Why Woody Allen’s Lighthearted New Movie May Still Tie You In Knots

Frances Ha: Woody Allen For the New Generation?

Frances Ha (2012)
Director: Noah Baumbach

Frances Ha, the latest film from director Noah Baumbach, whose earlier films include Kicking and Screaming, The Squid and the Whale, Margot at the Wedding and Greenberg, can be seen as a revisiting of territory made familiar by Woody Allen decades ago.

The fact that Frances Ha was shot in black and white and explores the lives of young and artsy New Yorkers makes the Woody Allen comparison inevitable. Yet this and other Baumbach films also show other influences, such as Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan and even perhaps Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise. The latter might seem a stretch, but in that iconic indie film from 1983, Jarmusch portrays aimless pre-hipsters in Brooklyn who, among other things, engage in cryptic conversations and have the tendency to take pointless journeys. Stranger Than Paradise was also a black and white film, and even has a character who wears the kind of hat common in today’s hipsters (who no doubt all saw that film).

None of this is meant to imply that Frances Ha is merely a derivative work or one that simply retreads familiar territory. Like Quentin Tarrantino (a very different sort of filmmaker overall), Baumbach has the gift of being able to present familiar themes in a manner that is completely refreshing and entertaining. Frances Ha is no exception. This film was co-written by Baumbach and star Greta Gerwig, who plays Frances.

It’s a little difficult to describe the plot of Frances Ha, as it’s mainly a series of scenes and montages. Some have identified it as a look at close female friendships, and how they can almost border on romance. At one point, Frances says to her best friend Sophie (Mickey Sumner), “We’re like an old lesbian couple that doesn’t have sex.” While the relationship between the two twenty-something women takes up a lot of screen time, the film is really broader in scope. It’s an exploration of a contemporary bohemian lifestyle that must come to terms with economic hardships.

Frances, unlike some of her friends and roommates, is struggling to support herself as a dancer. At one point she moves in with a pair of well-off kids who say things like, “We’re thinking of hiring a maid; it only costs $400 a month.” Yet, even though she has trouble paying her rent, she stubbornly refuses to take a receptionist job at the dance studio where she teaches part time because it’s not in line with her creative aspirations.

Frances Ha will annoy some people, because there is no effort to make the protagonist or her friends universally likable or accessible. In fact, if you are not young, hip, educated and/or urban, you may find these characters as alien as members of a tribe on a continent you’ve only seen on the Discovery Channel. In this manner, Baumbach follows in the footsteps of Woody Allen, whose Upper East Side elitist professionals were never meant to be representative of America at large.

I have thoroughly enjoyed all of Baumbach’s films, and Frances Ha is no exception. They are driven by characters who, while not always rational or likable, are complex enough to be believable. While some of the dialogue seems slightly over-the-top in its self-consciousness (you might catch a whiff of Portlandia here as well), some people actually do talk this way. Frances herself, however, does not come across as pretentious or overly hip; she is more the product of a certain milieu that compels certain ways of talking and thinking.

Unlike many other indie films that wallow in quirkiness, Frances Ha does not go overboard trying to convince you that its characters are adorable. If you end up liking Frances, its because you accept her as a person who somehow transcends stereotypes.

Related Blogs

    Whatever Works

    Note: This review has been re-published on Devtome.

    Whatever Works is yet another opportunity for Woody Allen to showcase his witty, cynical and supercilious beliefs about life, love and the utter meaninglessness of the universe. In this film, Larry David plays the Woody Allen character, who really hasn’t changed much in some half century. He is brilliant, arrogant and highly neurotic, subject to frequent panic attacks.

    The first thing that is necessary when watching Whatever Works it to get beyond the basic implausibility of the central premise. Namely, that a beautiful young woman, played by Evan Rachel Ward, would fall instantly in love with Larry David -an aging neurotic who, on top of everything else, is rude and insulting to her.

    Ward plays the kind of part that few contemporary filmmakers would dare to create for fear of being charged with sexism, if not misogyny. She is not only the stereotypical dumb blonde, but the dumb rural Southerner. Never has Allen’s New York-centric biases been more apparent or overbearing. We also get to meet Ward’s equally backward parents, who come complete with alcoholism, fundamentalism and memberships in the NRA.

    Whatever Works is still a mostly entertaining and funny film to watch. Allen creates a complex farce out of many mismatched characters and then resolves it all in an
    unlikely but pleasing manner. Allen also throws in the postmodern device of having the actors -or one of them- speak directly to the audience. I’m not sure if this adds anything to the film, but it’s really a minor part of the movie in any case.

    Allen’s films are almost always witty and insightful about human nature (if you can get past the stereotypes), and Whatever Works is no exception. Some people have complained that Allen’s work has diminished since his great films of the 1970s and 80s – Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, Manhattan, etc. I think the truth, however, is that his more recent films are not so much inferior to his earlier ones as retreads.

    Woody Allen is considered to be a great 1970s director, which is true, but in fact his basic outlook on life is more typical of the 1950s. Not the small town, Norman Rockwellesque 1950s, but the New York secular humanist intellectual 1950s. The typical Woody Allen character is a composite of Freud and existentialists like Sartre, with some Dostoyevsky thrown in the mix.

    There’s nothing wrong with this mentality -as any Allen protagonist could tell you, in many ways it’s more interesting, thought-provoking -and funny, of course- than
    the typical characters who personify today’s largely post-literate cultural landscape.
    There is, however, a certain irony to Allen’s New York elitism -namely, that it’s actually a rather extreme form of provincialism.

    You simply can’t avoid the fact that, no matter how intellectual it all sounds, this
    hardcore atheist/rationalist/existentialist mentality is dated and somewhat stagnant. Even Jean Paul Sartre, in his later years, moved on from the dour “meaninglessness of it all” of his youthful writings. Woody Allen, meanwhile, seems to be permanently rooted in this particular point in intellectual history.