A director is forced to work with his ex-wife, who left him for the boss of the studio bankrolling his new film. But the night before the first day of shooting, he develops a case of psychosomatic blindness.
Val Waxman is a film director who was once big in the 1970's and 1980's, but has now has been reduced to directing TV commercials. Finally, he gets an offer to make a big film. But, disaster strikes, when Val goes temporarily blind, due to paranoia. So, he and a few friends, try to cover up his disability, without the studio executives or the producers knowing that he is directing the film blind. Written by
Did your mother ever tell you that it wasn't polite to make fun of blind people? Well, apparently, Woody Allen's mother didn't, since this is exactly what he does for a good hour or more in his latest film, `Hollywood Ending.' (Or, perhaps, he just doesn't WANT to be polite). Whatever the case, Allen himself stars as Val Waxman, a once brilliant film director who has fallen on hard times, partly due to his own temperamental nature and partly to his own tendency for obsessive/compulsive behavior and chronic hypochondria, all of which have made him anathema to Hollywood's major producers. Tea Leoni plays Val's ex-wife, Ellie, who convinces her current fiancé, studio boss Hal (played by Treat Williams), to take a chance on Val and turn a multimillion dollar film project over to the iconoclastic director. All is going well until, right on the eve of production, Val develops a case of psychosomatic blindness, a condition he and a few close allies try to keep a secret during the making of the film. The majority of `Hollywood Ending' revolves around Val's attempts to keep people from finding out the truth and delivering a creditable motion picture to the studio heads at the same time.
In many ways, this pallid comedy combines the slapstick elements of Allen's early works (`Bananas' and `Sleeper') with the cynicism of his later, more mature explorations of modern urban romantic life (`Annie Hall,' `Manhattan'). Unfortunately, `Hollywood Ending' winds up as an uneasy hybrid of the two forms, mixing lowbrow comic mugging and pratfalls with the customary angst-ridden dithering that Allen has been indulging in (often quite effectively) for well nigh a quarter of a century now. Well, the bloom is definitely off the rose here. Part of the problem is that Allen's neurotic tics are amusing only when he has some serious points to make under all the humor. In this film, however, he is providing no insights to go along with the chatter so that he comes across as whiney and self-absorbed rather than witty and ironical. Val always seems to be blathering a mile a minute, so much so that we finally just want him to shut up and give us a moment's silence. To make matters worse, the scenes of broad physical comedy Allen bumping into furniture, Allen breaking glasses, Allen falling off platforms are not particularly well executed, lacking the kind of adept, split second timing essential to make such scenes comically effective. Thus, the film fails on two levels: both as a work of slapstick and as a verbal comedy of ideas. The film could, potentially, have scored as an acerbic satire on the ludicrous commercial values that define the American film industry, yet even most of these `inside' jokes seem strangely unoriginal and old hat, especially coming from a man as attuned to the industry as Woody Allen.
Although Allen, in his old age, has degenerated into little more than a wan parody of himself, Tea Leoni sparkles as Ellie, creating a character who is simultaneously strong, sensible, insecure and vulnerable. Leoni's performance is, literally, the anchor that keeps this otherwise lighter-than-air trifle from floating away completely. Barney Cheng does a nice job playing a Chinese translator whom Val uses to help him carry off this impossible charade; Mark Rydell provides some memorable moments as Val's helpful agent; and Debra Messing glows as Val's beautiful but bubble headed `significant other,' who is far more concerned about losing her part in the movie than losing her role as bedmate to the neurotic director.
It would be unfair, as well as untruthful, to say that `Hollywood Ending' did not afford a couple of pretty impressive laughs along the way. This IS a Woody Allen film, after all. And even Woody on a bad day is better than many of our Hollywood humorists on a good day. But with so many great films in his oeuvre, one naturally goes into this film with high expectations. When a final assessment is made of all of Allen's prodigious cinematic output, `Hollywood Ending' will wind up somewhere very near the bottom of the list.
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