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To Woody With (Tough) Love
by Nathaniel Rogers, published on Thursday, July 12, 2012 - 5:00PM
Dear Woody Allen,
I will always be there for you. Stop punishing me for my loyalty!
Back in 1984 my older brother drove me to see Broadway Danny Rose. I don't remember why. I'll readily admit that much of the movie went over my head but I laughed and laughed at the helium scene. To this day it's the only thing I remember about the movie which I never saw again. (There were always new and old Woody Allens to see so there was little time to rewatch!). My brother laughed, too. The next year I cajoled my entire family into seeing The Purple Rose of Cairo -- even though they kept grumbling about you stealing the Oscar from Star Wars -- because it was about the movies and because you made it.
It was a turning point. I was already heading towards cinephilia but that blissful melancholy miniature classic handed me a map to get there quicker; my destiny was sealed.
As a reward to you and a treat to myself I go to each and every Woody Allen movie in the theaters. For a good long time this ritual reaped enormous rewards and I rushed out on opening night. I learned to live with the occassional dud and I still rejoice when you have a success -- hello Midnight in Paris! Nice to know ya -- but as the balance began tipping towards the "uhhh" side of the quality scale, I got lazier about it. It's been quite some time since I rushed out on opening night. I still see them but the passion has gone out of the trip ... it's now something mundane, like a favor you'd automatically do for an old friend without ever considering saying "no." You've a lifetime pass.
Everyone was ready to love you again and you bring us this shapeless piffle? Nothing about To Rome... feels fully formed. Did you write it on hotel napkins during breaks on the press tours for Midnight when your duties as a public figure aggravated you. Because aside from a half-assed satirical jab at the modern celebrity -- more of a satirical nudge really since there's no bite, nothing unites the stories and they seem to serve no purpose other than to be this year's Woody Allen movie. Stories don't have to connect of course but it helps if they resonate by their very proximity. They are happening in the same film. Just saying.
And the jokes. Remember that scene where Penélope Cruz's hooker is visiting the Sistine Chapel and the tourists are saying "can you imagine working on your back all day?" Penélope responds "I can." While it was happening I couldn't look away and I felt my spirit crashing in slow motion. 'No no he won't go there. It's too obvious. Too much of a groaner. He'll spin it so----NOOOoooooo he went there. Without artistry or spin or a funny reaction shot! Without anything but the groaner." Maybe I'm viewing the past with nostalgic rosy glasses, the very thing you warned us about in Midnight in Paris, but I don't think you ever would've lobbed that at us in such a dull way before.
I can't even talk about the Alec Baldwin character who begins the film as a real character only to then serve as an adult counterpoint to a younger self (?) to then morph into a invisible misogynist Greek chorus of sorts (?) without actually being physically there. Well, sometimes he's there and sometimes not. Is he real? Is he a fantasy? Is he the future? If he's a fantasy or the future why does he get an introduction scene? If he's real how is he invisible? Any which way he's useless because the idea isn't formed in any specific way... it's competing creative scribbles in a notebook with the writer never making any choices. Your characters have never had a problem being verbose and speaking their thoughts aloud. They do that here, too. But now there's just an extra person talking.
Your constant prolificness used to be a blessing. But lately it shows. Please do a second draft. I'm pleading with you! Take a year off. Do something differently lest we believe that your high quality efforts are now mere accidents, things you stumbled upon accidentally at the sweatshop Woody Allen Factory.
your concerned life long fan, Nathaniel.
P.S. Rehiring the perpetually underused Judy Davis was very smart and she's the saving grace of an otherwise dull disposable film. Please make her your new muse. Pedro already owns Penélope and Scarlett Johansson just wasn't funny enough and she's too busy Avenging now anyway.