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In Woody Allen's latest offering HOLLYWOOD ENDING, he portrays a director who is forced to shoot a movie through a spell of blindness. It's kind of funny, because as this movie went on, I kind of felt that Allen had some sort of handicap going into it.
Basically, without pulling punches, HOLLYWOOD ENDING is not Woody Allen's best work. It's not even an average Woody Allen film. Basically, this movie pretty well exemplifies the reasons why a lot of people tend to detest his work. Allen has a tendency to make his movies too wordy, full of unlikeable, neurotic characters, and most importantly, puts way too much confidence in the lead characters that he more often than not tends to portray. Never before has that been apparent than in this film, which, honestly, made me uncomfortable to watch at a lot of moments.
Let's start with Woody's character. Val Waxman is an aging Hollywood director who is in a bit of a dry spell. His last gig, a deodorant commercial being shot in an arctic Canadian backdrop, ended when he was fired; or at least, when he quit for being fired. He's played by Woody Allen, of course, so he's a short, scrawny, unattractive, neurotic old man. However, he just so happens to have recently been married to Tea Leoni, is currently bunking with Debra Messing, and is thwarting seduction attempts by Tiffani Theissen. Yes, Kelly Kapowski is trying to seduce Woody Allen after she already has a role in his movie, therefore basically only doing it for kicks. Do you see now why people often hate Woody Allen's self-portrayed characters?
The film's pacing just seems off, at least for the first 45 minutes or so. It really just plods along. I caught myself checking the time on the DVD thinking I was halfway in to the film, and then realized it was only about 25 minutes gone. Really. The setup just drags on, and when we finally get to the point of the movie whre the majority of the plot takes place (after the production of the movie begins and Val goes blind) it's 45 minutes in, but feels like even farther. There's one really funny scene in this first act, but the rest of it seems like a string of really dull Hollywood in-jokes that some of the audience won't get and some of the audience will just find dull. I'm not sure if Allen wants us to feel sorry for Val or to despise him, because, really, it's so much easier to do the latter.
Allen's best work is the type of stuff where he takes a more subdued approach to his own self-exposure. Stuff like SWEET AND LOWDOWN, BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, and EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU, in which he is not at the film's epicenter, tend to be his most enjoyable films of recent times. Even when he paints himself as a less-than-favorable character, as in DECONSTRUCTING HARRY, he's not such a distracting screen presence. However, this film is by far the most unnerving one to watch, seeing Allen portraying the babbling character he really is and yet seeing him score with beautiful women without even trying is just a nightmare.
On top of all that, the film just never really seems to find a groove. Like the film Waxman is directing within the movie, it just seems to be led by someone without a completed vision. The timing is sloppy, there are scenes that seem to go on too long or that should be omitted completely, and the premise just seems to go from the amusing to the ludicrous within a short window of time. Allen was apparently trying to make a statement about the industry here, but if his statement was to make a subpar film then I guess he hit the nail on the head.
And then, of course, is the real "Hollywood Ending". It's predictable as hell as to how the movie's gonna end, and when they throw in the happy ending to do what I guess is the exclamation point on the big in-joke it just kind of falls flat. It feels tacked on. Frankly, even though it's basically everything we expect it to be, it still manages to disappoint.
Woody Allen's work is an acquired taste, but this is not the best taste to get closer to acquiring one.
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