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.
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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
This one, unlike many of Woody's pieces over the past decade or so, is neither a failed comedy nor a dullish drama. It's pretty funny all the way through and lacks any pretense of being otherwise. I won't go into the story except to repeat that Woody is a film director here, given a last chance, trying to direct a remake of a 1940s film. He suddenly suffers from hysterical blindness and must make the movie without seeing any of the performances, the rushes, the production design, the promotional material, or anything else. His agent is the only one in on the secret. They enlist the help of a Chinese translator to act as Woody's guide around the set and the rest of the world, but the translator is fired by the Chinese cameraman. So the agent must spill the beans to Woody's separated wife who then acts as her husband's eyes. It all ends happily.
This is a consistently amusing movie. There is even the occasional pratfall that hasn't been seen in a Woody movie for a long time. There are, to be sure, serious undertones that surface from time to time, but they lie lightly on the narrative line. One of these is the still-fuzzy relationship between Woody and his separated wife, Tia Leoni, who is engaged now to Treat Williams, grown bulky and authoritative. The other theme deals with Woody's relationship with his son, Tony. Tony has joined a rock band, if that's the term. His hair is a sickly dark green piled up in an improbable sculpture atop his head, like a Yurok Indian's. He eat rats on stage and has changed his name from Tony Waxman to ScumbagX. Tony once threw his father down a flight of stairs. But, "That was then," says Tony, easily forgiving himself, "and it was stupid." Tony doesn't have the funniest lines in the movie but in one way he gives the most interesting performance in the movie, because he's just about the only actor (not including the two Chinese) who doesn't speak the way Woody does. The nervous mannerisms we've come to recognize are all here in everyone else, and they're funny too, because they fit the characters so well. (They were appropriate to his character in "Broadway Danny Rose," too. And as they weren't when Branaugh used them in "Celebrity.") Here, just about everybody's got them. Hardly a sentence is completed with someone else interrupting or the sentence itself wandering off into space, lost, having forgotten its own beginning. I didn't bother to do a content analysis of the dialog but if "y'know?" isn't the most common utterance I'd be kind of surprised. Stuttering is endemic to the cast. People ask, "Whaddaya mean?" And somebody replies, "Whaddaya mean, whaddo I mean?" Hands flutter as if with lives of their own. The blind Woody praises a promotional poster for the film while admiring its blank back.
He himself is older here, noticeably, but not depressingly. His hair is now gray and his bald patch more pronounced. But he's in good shape and his wit is keen. He plays the blind man in a hilariously exaggerated fashion -- never looking directly at the person he's conversing with, constantly holding his open palms up in front of his chest as if carrying an invisible pumpkin. A writer from "Esquire" tells him fawningly how much she's enjoyed his work while taking notes for a tell-all scandalous hatchet-job about everyone involved in the production, kind of like the number Lillian Ross did on Hemingway for the New Yorker profile or on Huston's "Red Badge of Courage". Unluckily, she wears the same perfume as his wife and, thinking he's talking with Leoni, Allen tells her everything. And it isn't as if the whole film depends on the odd one-liner, although those one-liners are there too. (After regaining his sight, Woody views for the first time the footage he's shot, and he looks stricken. "Call Doctor Kavorkian," he says slowly.) The premise is absurd, of course. No one could pass himself off as sighted under these conditions. But joke follows joke unerringly, sometimes building on one another. Before an important meeting with the film's producer, his wife takes him to the guy's apartment to familiarize him with the layout. This way, you see, he will know where the chair is located, the desk, and the other items of furniture. She tries to be as helpful as possible. While he's wringing his hands in the doorway, she paces off distances in the apartment, telling him, "Okay, now you enter through the door and walk four steps. Then the chair is on your right. But, okay, if Hal is sitting there, you'll take two more steps. Now you turn to the left because that's where the sofa is, but watch out for the lamp." Woody anxiously repeats her instructions -- "watch out for the lamp, and the sofa is, two more paces, no four -- okay -- and then turn left." The instructions become impossibly complicated and confusing and Woody is gripping his head trying to remember them, until everything begins to break down, including the editing, and we get sequences that might have come out of that movie in which Danny Kaye has to remember that "the poison is in the pellet of the picture of the peacock and the flagon with the dragon has the brew that is true." Meanwhile Woody is stumbling around with those forearms stretched before him and a blank gaze, one of Baron von Frankenstein's rejects. During the actual interview he manages to sit on the lamp. You really ought to see this one if you are in the mood for laughs because it's a thoroughly successful comedy.
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