Pros:If you like Woody, it's fine Woody.
Cons:Too Long and a decidedly "B" List cast at least by Woody's standards
The Bottom Line: You may wish that Hollywood Ending's Hollywood ending had come about twenty minutes earlier, but how many comedies out there are better? Not many.
Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
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There are some things about Woody Allen that you're supposed to be able to count on. Firstly, the guy's gonna have a film every year. Next, the cast is going to be full of familiar faces. The writing will be sharp and the directing precise. Woody's love interests in the film will be much younger. And finally, the film will just zip by. Annie Hall, one of the great comedys of the past fifty years (if not in cinematic history) clocks in at 93 minutes. Manhattan is 95. Radio Days is 85. Even when Woody gets a little more dramatic, he rarely tops 105 minutes (even on Crimes and Misdemeanors and Hannah and Her Sisters).
Who on Earth, then, though it was a good idea for Woody's latest, Hollywood Ending, to last nearly two hours? Since Woody always has final cut there can only be one answer the Wood-man himself. And that was a mistake, since Hollywood Ending finds Woody in decent form overall, but there was no excuse for the movie to run anything more than 90 minutes.
And perhaps it's a trend. Allen's last film, Curse of the Jade Scorpion, was a career low. It wasn't funny, serious, or well-acted. It just sat there. And it sat there for 103 minutes, Much too long for a film with absolutely nothing to say. And Jade Scorpion was Allen's second straight failure after Small Time Crooks (ironically Woody's largest box office success in years).
Hollywood Ending works better than those last films because Allen does have a target for his barbs. Sure, he's mocked Hollywood before and he's done it better in the past, but it's a subject that finds him on solid ground.
Woody plays Val, an Oscar-winning director reduced over the years to directing commercials in Canada because he's preceived as difficult to work with. Val is given a second chance when his ex-wife Ellie (Tea Leoni) convinces her producer husband (Treat Williams) to let him direct a film that seems perfect. But Val is tempermental and he begins to alienate the producers by demanding a Chinese cinematographer who speaks no English and making other strange requests. And then, to make matters worse, on the eve of shooting, Val goes psychosomatically blind. The potential for hilarity is certainly there.
And it's easy to laugh outloud at the bumbling Hollywood stereotypes embodied by Treat Williams (who actually seems kinda uncomfortable with the Allen method) and George Hamilton. And Tea Leoni is a wonderfully gifted comic actor. In smaller parts Debra Messing and Tiffani-Amber Thiessen (after Elizabeth Berkeley in Scorpion, is Allen trying to go through all of the Saved By the Bell girls? Somebody get Lark Vorhees on the phone!) get a few laughs and Mark Rydell is good as Allen's agent.
But the man himself is only so-so and the film relies very heavily on the audience's comedic attachment to Val. Woody Allen is a gifted physical comic. Or at least he used to be. Here it's tough to tell when Val's psychoses and ailments are funny and when they're totally pathetic. Allen used to perfectly blur the two qualities, but now he tends a bit too much towards the latter. Over the years, Allen has been hit-and-miss in casting other actors to serve as his proxies. John Cusack and Sean Penn, for example, perfectly played roles that a younger Allen would have taken himself and Ed Norton showed an Allen-esque touch in Everyone Says I Love You. Kenneth Branagh, on the other hand, was a horrible stand-in for Woody in the otherwise-fine Celebrity. Val in Hollywood Ending is probably too old to have been played by any of those actors, but perhaps it's time for Allen to be writing his parts to be giving those young-ish Turks a chance.
Instead, Hollywood Ending doesn't seem to know how much Woody is enough Woody. Since the script could be broken down into three sections Pre-Blind, Blind, and Post-Blind it's easy to wish that both of the first two sections had been edited down by, say, ten minutes.
Allen and Wendigo Von Schultendorff (I'm planning on naming my first son "Wendigo Von Schultendorff Fienberg," incidentally) do a typically wonderfully job of photographing New York. And as a comedic director, Allen has no contemporary equal. The man knows how to make funny with his camera. And the script is sharp and witty and all of the actors get to be somewhat funny.
The result is a film that will have you laughing, but may also have you looking at your watch. You'll remember that Woody Allen is just funnier than most people in the industry. And you might be wondering when Woody began to think that more was better.
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Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older