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Hot on the high-heels of "Showgirls" comes Woody Allen's latest film,
"Mighty Aphrodite," named after the Greek goddess of love, another
film trying to interrogate the questionable mentality and dubious
spirituality of the skin trade. A lot will probably be made of the fact
that, not satisfied with merely pointing out classical references in his
text, Allen decided to have a whole Greek Chorus (consisting of F. Murray
Abraham, Olympia Dukakis, David Ogden Stiers and Jack Warden) filmed in an
ancient outdoor amphitheater in Taormina, Italy (wearing masks, no less,
a nod to classical authenticity) and genuflect on the alter of genuine
to underscore the tragic and comedic parts of his film. It doesn't matter
how well- versed you are in the Greeks, you'll be able to enjoy what Allen
has done with his approach, which is a very refreshing idea for film
(bringing it all back home) and also a great surreal scaffold for the
situation he presents. Purists be warned.
Allen (Now 60 years old, but trying to play his role like he's not a day
over 40) and Helena Bonham- Carter (29 years old) are happily married when
one day Bonham-Carter's biological clock goes off and she wants to have a
baby immediately. Allen hesitates so much at the thought of pregnancy that
Bonham- Carter, who really can't wait, says, "fine, let's adopt, then,"
which of course hits the raw nerve of Allen's masculinity as he defends
genes against the idea of having someone else's child join their
Allen's character in this film is a sportswriter, adding another "tough" layer to his never-ending quiche of a meditation/angst-ridden search for definitive masculinity. Every scene where Allen suffers some sort of gender-related torment is set in a male arena: When he's fighting on the phone with Bonham-Carter about the decision to adopt, the backdrop is a boxing club with every ring filled with sparring partners. Another scene where he contemplates his situation shows him pacing back and forth on the sidelines watching the New York Giants scrimmage in the Meadowlands.
The couple finally decide to adopt a boy, and in one scene in particular I realized just how much Allen is stuck in a zeitgeist rut. In their uptown apartment Allen and Bonham-Carter bandy names back and forth for the new little tike as Allen, forever the cultural namedropper, comes up with the monikers of all of his heroes: Django, Groucho, Thelonius. Bonham-Carter is oblivious to his suggestions as she coddles the baby and suddenly you realize that Allen should have made this film years ago, because the conversation sounds like something that was written for what would have been the sequel to "Annie Hall." Now that he's twenty years removed from the carefree days of dynamic dialogue with Diane Keaton and the spark she brought as Allen's main female foil, Bonham-Carter seems unsure of herself, treating Allen as obligatorily as a father or uncle rather than her husband. Enter the plot.
Bonham-Carter is being chased by Peter Weller (48 years old), a seductively sleazy art gallery owner, which sends Allen's mid-life crisis into an absolute tailspin as he begins wondering if he's really happy with his wife, and as he's looking at his newly adopted "son" he wonders aloud what the mother of his adopted child is like. Enter Cassandra and...you get the picture.
One of the things I realized while watching "Mighty Aphrodite" is that Allen has spent a good portion of his career in film flagellating himself for not being the American Ingmar Bergman, when all the time he should have been luxuriating in the fact that he's the American Federico Fellini: He has an uncanny sense for seeking out ripe minor actors, ready to be picked, and then letting them find the aspect of the character they're playing that makes them Characters rather than just parts played by actors. Even though I feel as if Bonham-Carter is not given nearly enough room to fully flesh out her character (which is a shame for an actress of her caliber), the film is really about Linda, the real mother of Allen and Bonham-Carter's adopted child, who turns out to be a ditzy porn star overflowing with spunk and zeal.
Linda, played by Mira Sorvino (Quiz Show, Barcelona), Paul Sorvino's daughter, steals the film. Allen has tempted fate and defied the Greek Chorus' warnings by seeking out Linda, but since she's in the skin trade he arranges to meet her at her apartment in the guise of being merely a "john." When Allen's reticence at wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am sex gets the better of him, he finally shows the age and mindset that he really is and turns into a grandfather before your very eyes.
But, Linda is a ditz first and a hooker second in that she understands her victimization but also begins to realize that her situation is only as hopeless as her innate tenacity is boundless. In the most delicate scene in the film, and maybe the most poignant scene I've seen all year, Sorvino is in her bathtub-sized kitchen trying to defend her life to Allen, and as she keeps talking she realizes her own complicity until she finally mentions that she even had a baby once that she gave up for adoption. Allen gives her this scene by not entering the frame for what seems like a full minute. The direction in this scene alone, in Linda's chessily decorated flat complete with clocks of pigs in heat, shows just how gifted Allen is at being able to take an obscure actress, give her a two-dimensional role and have her find the heart and soul of the film on her own.
Leave it to Woody Allen to deliver a film that is fascinating on many levels and is as beautifully structured as anything you're likely to see all year. I don't believe it's Best Picture material, but it does show a very strong return to form for Allen, no matter how unsure he is of reentering the war between the sexes.
Spike Jones once said that his material was too corny for sophisticated
people but too sophisticated for corny people. Woody Allen's material can
lend itself to similar critique. Mighty Aphrodite has a superb balance
between sophistication and corn.
The Greek chorus idea is very well used, both at a sophisticated level - the film is essentially a modernised Greek drama - and at a corn level (when the chorus morphed into a more Broadway-style chorus Janie avoided the cheese by going into the kitchen and uncorking the wine). The Greek myth theme is well done throughout - I loved the appeal to Zeus especially. Also the deus ex machina resolution was terrific fun, although I think not entirely original (I believe it was Cocteau who previously used the helicopter as a visual deus ex machina).
Fine performances - Mira Sorvino is a super "tart with a heart". Even Helena Bonham Carter is more effectively used in this film than in her standard Merchant Ivory roles, although I thought she lacked chemistry with Woody. Good also to see F Murray Abraham as the leader of the chorus - why do we see so little of him these days?
I'm a fan of Woody, but he has been patchy in the last 10 years or so. With this one, he really was in sparkling form. Well worth seeing.
I have just watched Woody Allen's magnificent movie again for the first time
in almost 10 years and am more convinced than ever that it is one of his
most under-rated films (but then, how do you judge an artist - by his
individual works or by the overall body of his work?). And if suddenly I
feel I am getting too serious here, let's just say that this is a very funny
By now there is no escaping the fact that Woody Allen's films are largely autobiographical in that he uses what is happening in his own life to fuel his storylines. For an audience this is sometimes only apparent in hindsight as the tabloids are quick to exploit Woody's foibiles. But he beats us to it, and for that reason "Mighty Aphrodite" deals us a killer blow - it is very, very funny but in dealing with adoption, children and in marriages on the verge it is also very moving. I laughed till I cried (the juxtaposition of the Greek chorus with the contemporaneous is a brilliant device) and finally I just cried.
As to the movie itself, it is beautifully photographed and brilliantly edited (and with some inspired choreography) and acted to the highest order: (Helena Bonham-Carter standing in for Mia Farrow just as well as Kenneth Branagh stood in for the Woodmeister in "Celebrity" - and how incestuous can we get here). But the final word has to go to Mira Sorvino who is funny, touching and inspired. Sometimes (not often) the Academy gets it right and her Oscar was one of their finest hours.
A childless couple adopt a baby, but the father becomes curious about the
real birth mother and decides to trace her.
Good to see Allen returning to something like his best, probably because he is returning to his natural home: The light comedy of domestic life and the embarrassing people that we have to deal with.
The star turn is Mira Sorvino (the natural mother) as the tart with a heart (an update of the happy hooker?) who Allen gets to know by pretending to be a client. Great plot device, which shows what Allen can do when he casts his mind wider than people chatting around restaurant tables or at parties.
Interesting to see how Allen has developed as regards sexual frankness and the use of four letter words. Strangely he is returning to the device of being sexually inept (something he had been moving away from) to gain extra laughs.
For once he gives the best lines to someone else - and in Sorvino we have a great comedienne: A really touching and funny performance. Another Oscar that an actor/actress would never have otherwise got without the magic pen of Woody - no wonder the guy is so loved in the business!
Away from the main comedy the thing bumbles along. Wife Helena Boham-Carter is not faithful and they argue a lot. The usual hypocrisies, double standards and manners are displayed (for a WA film), but they don't stop the film as they do elsewhere. The Greek chorus asides - are actually fantastically funny and a real piece of comic invention.
Thankfully we have a something to do and somewhere to go here, it isn't just people whining about their lives. Allen wants to improve the life of the hooker-come-porn-star and suggests hairdressing and teaming up with a half-wit boxer (who he met through his job as a sports writer) he thinks she will like.
A very entertaining film and it is good to see that Allen can write funny lines for women - which I thought he was incapable of. Recommended.
I can say that "Mighty Aphrodite" is the film that made me really appreciate
Woody Allen's films. His direction is great, and so is the screenplay in the
majority of his pictures.
The story of "Mighty Aphrodite" is magic, light, funny and beautiful. The idea of the Greek chorus is just incredible! All the cast is great, but the best one is really Mira Sorvino. She deserved her Oscar playing Linda Ash, a nice and ingenuous prostitute.
So if you like Woody Allen's films, you'll surely love this one like I did.
Sports writer Lenny Weinrib is married to Amanda. Amanda decides she wants
a child but can't afford to take a year away from her art gallery projects,
so they adopt. Over the years the child strengthens their marriage and
turns out to be incredibly clever and gifted. Curious about his parents
Lenny sets out to find Max's mother (understanding the father to be dead).
Expecting her to be intelligent he is surprised to locate a hooker who
aspires to make it to Broadway and is working her way their in adult movies.
He tries to get to know her and seeks to better her lot in life by getting
her out of the game so that his son won't grow up to locate his mother to
find she is an aging porn star. This causes tensions between Lenny and
Linda but also at home as the cracks in his marriage begin to
Woody Allen's films do tend to be similar if not the same certainly the last few years have seen him return to a regular light comedy style (I'm not complaining). However they potentially could be all the same. Here he cleverly mixes Greek tragedy into the story to make it sufficiently different. The story is certainly different, with a hooker taking center stage, however Allen's trade mark wit is still very much on show. The Greek chorus line is merely a different way of delivering his usual one liners and funny observations and doesn't distract at all. It's very straight forward, but the Greek touch makes it feel fresh and new.
Woody Allen is as good as ever he maybe looks a bit old, but he's so good at what he does that after 5 minutes it doesn't matter. Sorvino is excellent in a daffy role it's not the sort of role usually rewarded by awards but she deserved the Oscar for a funny performance. Bonham-Carter is not very good as an `Noo Yorka' girl but luckily she has little screen time. The support cast is full of quality and lots of well known (if not famous) faces in small roles, F Abraham Murray is the head of the chorus line but the support includes Peter Weller, Jack Warner, Tony Siricio (Soprano's Paulie), Michael Rapaport, Paul Giamatti the list goes on.
Overall this is yet another quality product from Woody Allen, it's hardly ground breaking stuff but when someone can be consistently this good year after year then you've got to give him his dues.
I don't think Woody Allen was aiming very high with Mighty Aphrodite,
and it's just as well that his targets are lowered onto one of the most
"light" comedies ever made about a prostitute and a sports writer, with
a Greek chorus in tow. You know the Greek chorus, chiming in at those
moments when drama might need a little heightening, and if needed
adding some unintentional humor to the process of a story like Antigone
(actually, it's not a very funny story, but besides the point). Woody
Allen combines with a fair amount of his usual wit a film that plays
upon the big moral quandaries that are juxtaposed by a it's own
built-in audience within the story; occasionally, one of the Greek
chorus members (F. Murray Abraham especially, in one of his funniest
roles) comes directly to Woody's character telling him 'what are you
doing?' in a scene of near-classic Woody-nervousness comedy. It almost
leans on becoming a little too goofy to deal with, as the story itself
should have enough weight on its own to go without a sidebar of
fantasy. But it does help garner some big laughs; where else will you
see Zeus with his answering machine on?
Woody Allen plays the aforementioned sports writer, who's married to a preoccupied art curator (Helena Bonham Carter), and together with her has an adopted son. He starts to get curious about where his son originally came from, as he seems very bright and an above average kid even at the age of five. After some prodding and searching, he comes upon the mother: Leslie, aka Linda St. James, aka Lucy C** (Mira Sorvino, in a somewhat deserving Oscar turn). A prostitute and sometimes porno actress, she soon goes under Woody's character as a new woman, breaking away- slowly and with some trouble with her "business manager"- into a normal life. Although Allen does go to some lengths to make Linda, and even Carter's character, pretty well-rounded characters, he himself sort of stays in a narrow role as either the usual Woody nebbish with many a quick wisecrack (i.e. first meeting Linda at her apartment, surrounded by a screwing pig clock and cacti with genitalia, and his run-in with her 'manager' at a seedy bar), or as the surrogate match-maker for Linda to go on with a new life with a new man.
A lot of this leads to funny scenes, not least of which surrounding what is in the subtext rather sad, of the situation of how she gave up her son for adoption and that it's never said outright what the truth is about Woody showing up to her, and there's somehow through what is potentially troublesome material some laugh-out-loud scenes. A scene that is meant, conventionally, just for character development like at the race track where Linda bets on the "Eager Beaver" is a riot, as well as the arranging of the first date with her and Michael Rappaport's dim-witted farmer/boxer. And Allen even attempts for a wallop of whimsy at the end when irony is piled up high, and everyone is seen, simply put, being in a level of bliss with their respective lot in life. If it isn't totally focused as a better Woody Allen picture, it may be because it works a little better when around the Allen/Sorvino connection, as opposed to the whole side-story involving him and his wife, which could be picked out from any random Woody Allen movie (and not necessarily a very involving side-story either).
There's a good few laughs, a couple of brilliant zingers, and better than average performances turned in. Like Bullets Over Broadway it's a successful attempt at presenting dramatic subject matter in a light-hearted fashion, if not as deep or layered as the former.
This is a charming movie - particularly the parts played by the boxer-onion
farmer, and prostitute/porn star, and their two scenes together. Allen's
character's efforts sense of what happier direction the prostitute's life
could take and his efforts to reform her, are also exactly what most of us
would do if we discovered that she was the biological mother of our adopted
Allen has such imagination - and such an understanding of how people of varying education and background, talk and move, and what they care about.
I did feel the subplot involving Helena Bonham-Carter, her career and Peter Weller, was less imaginative, less interesting. I've always had trouble warming to Bonham-Carter - perhaps it's just how unlikeable virtually all her roles have been - and this role didn't help.
Mira Sorvino's character sounds amusingly like Victoria Jackson from Saturday Night Live - her figure is so eye-popping, and her sweetness so endearing that she definitely is the memorable character for anyone who sees the movie. "Oh, that's the one with Mira Sorvino" is undoubtedly how people would remember this movie. However, the Greek chorus was a wonderful idea - and Jack Warner in a small role as a blind seer, and F. Murray Abraham as the principal chorus member/conscience of the movie is also wonderful.
The writing, directing, and acting in this movie were fabulous. The supporting cast is one of the best ever assembled, and heading this supporting cast is the breakout performance of the century. Mira Sorvino as Linda Ash has to be one of the greatest comedic performances in the history of film. She is charming, and sweet, and everything you would never expect a New York hooker and porn star to be. She creates Linda Ash from lines and direction that could go either way. She could have chosen to make this character a hardened, tough city chick. Instead, she went a completely different route of innocence despite sexual experience and naivete in the face of New York attitude, and it won her a well-deserved Oscar. She is also just as delightful and funny as she is touching and poignant. See this movie, even if it is only for Sorvino's performance, ignoring the incredible and novel script, the presence of Helena Bonham Carter and other actors of her caliber, and the fact that this could rival Annie Hall for best Woody Allen film. Great acting, great script, great comedy, wonderful movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a very simple story that Woody Allen did not mess up by making
it too artsy or introspective. It's a strange tale about a couple who
adopt a child and the hubby keeps compulsively wondering what the birth
mother was like. His wife, Helena Bonham Carter, doesn't care and gets
angry at his obsessiveness.
Eventually, Woody is able to track down the mother and it's Mira Sorvino (who won an Oscar for her rather broad performance). She's a ditsy woman who is somehow very attractive to Woody and he pursues her relentlessly.
While Sorvino's dumb blonde character is kind of interesting, I found that a little of it went a long way. However, the story itself was very interesting and fresh, so it's worth a look.
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