1994, Music

Bullets Over Broadway (1994, Woody Allen)

Obligatory mention: Woody Allen has been accused of sexually assaulting his adopted daughter. He also married the adopted daughter of his former partner. I can completely understand if you want to never watch another Woody Allen film, or read about Woody Allen. Bullets Over Broadway has been on my “To Watch” list for my entire adult life, which is why I watched it tonight.

This is basically a riff on The Producers but with Mob financing replacing a deliberate bomb as the madcap reason for a Broadway play that shouldn’t be a hit. Because it’s Allen, the whole thing is a lot more cerebral, and a lot more about big issues, than a Mel Brooks movie, but it’s hard to escape the rough similarities even if the plot is entirely different.

Cusack plays the Allen surrogate – though it’s obvious, he does a good job of it and by the end I had basically forgotten he was playing Allen’s part. Everybody else is good, particularly Jennifer Tilly and Diane Wiest. I might go so far as saying this is the role Tilly was born to play.

This is a particularly funny film, for the era of Allen’s filmography, which is perhaps why it was greeted so positively when it was released. I haven’t seen his ’80s films in some time, but many of them are quite serious if memory serves. I laughed out loud a lot.

It’s also super well directed, featuring all sorts of great shots, showing off perhaps one of Allen’s less discussed talents. I haven’t watched an older film of his in quite some time, and I forgot how much of a virtuoso he was behind the camera. That’s not to say it’s distracting, quite the opposite; he manages to shoot it really well without the direction calling attention to itself.

If there’s one criticism of the film (rather than the man), it’s that it’s a little contrived and perhaps a little overwritten. The conceit feels believable enough but the plot escalates perhaps a little too much. But it’s not so much that as the forced resolution for the Allen character that seems perhaps a titch unnecessary. Also, the diary entries feel like they were added in post, though they actually work well enough that my initial critical reaction was mellowed over time.

This is a super enjoyable film, and is probably enjoyable even for those people who didn’t like Woody Allen before they found out about the assault accusation. (Though his relationship with Mia Farrow’s other adopted daughter was already public when this film came out, so it should have been hard to ignore when this came out. What I mean to say is that if you didn’t like Woody Allen movies because of his shtick, rather than his personal life, this is the kind of film you might enjoy.) It’s the kind of film that causes a lot of problems for me because it reminds me of how great a flimmaker Woody Allen is – that he could toss something like this off even though it’s outside of his normal wheelhouse – but yet I know that the film industry and movie critics have enabled him to be relatively safe from criticism around his personal life. The movie itself even brings up this very issue in a circumspect way in a repeated discussion about “The Artist vs. The Man.” Of course, many of us suspect that the man may be awful or, at the very least, a pedophile. So the art, when it is good, is problematic.


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