Opening 10 Nov 2016
Woody Allen has been making a film almost every year since the late 1960s and, to quote Bill Clinton, it’s “because one can.” Absolutely, and this film underscores that theory. Allen takes us to Hollywood in the 1930s, a time immediately recognizable by familiar swing jazz music. Phil (Carell) is a big-time manager, moving and shaking with the stars. He is not amused when nephew Bobby (Eisenberg) appears, basically to take on any job he can get, better than working in his father’s New York City jewelry store. Bobby falls in love with Phil’s secretary, Vonnie (Stewart), and makes plans to take her back to Manhattan as his wife. He’s disappointed with Hollywood, literally running away from that “boring, boring, nasty dog-eat-dog industry.” His new option is to work in his brother Ben’s (Corey Stoll) night club. Plans change and he finds himself a bigshot in Manhattan, married to Veronica (Blake Lively), and the father of a new-born daughter. His family (mother Rose, father Marty, sister Evelyn, and brother-in-law Leonard) provides consistent support, as do high-level businessman Steve and his wife Rad (Parker Posey).
Perhaps the story sounds simple, real life in a nutshell, similar to our own experiences. That is one of the excellent characteristics of this film: we can all identify, see ourselves, and commiserate with Bobby. Or, as Allen sees it, “Life is a comedy, written by a sadistic comedy writer.” Also excellent is the camera work, scenes filmed in beautiful white and blue (opening scene) or orangey gold. Allen made an excellent choice to work with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, winner of three Oscars as well as many other awards. Then there are the costumes of the era, the 31 familiar songs, the extras who inhabit the party and night club scenes. A contrast to the glamor is Bobby’s lower middle-class, Jewish family, with visions of a better life while arguing with the neighbor.
Woody Allen said he wrote the script as if it were a book. He takes over the narrative himself in a wonderful Brooklyn accent and says that, “it’s as if I were reading my book aloud to the audience.” At age 81, with more than 60 films to his name, he is in a position to say anything he wishes; there are no taboos. He can joke about Judaism in ways where others would be considered anti-Semitic, not to mention satiric comments about Hollywood. “Older” viewers will appreciate the references to by-gone movies stars such as Betty Davis, Gloria Swanson, Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamar, etc., and the vintage cars, suitcases, and telephones. Each scene is perfect down to the last detail. (Becky Tan)