Saturday, August 2, 2014


I watched ALICE (1990) for the second time the other day. I saw this Woody Allen romantic comedy on first release. There was a time in my life when I didn't miss a Woody Allen film. Every year, Allen would release a film and every year, I'd go to the theater and see it. Somewhere along the way, I stopped going to the theater to see first run Woody Allen films. Haven't seen one in several years. I know I'm missing some fine work and I'm sure I'll eventually catch up but the fact remains that at some point in my movie going life, seeing every new Woody Allen film as they came out ceased to be a priority for me.

ALICE isn't a bad little movie but it's certainly not one of Woody's best. This slight romantic comedy traffics heavily in magic realism in the story of Alice (Mia Farrow), a repressed woman who's married to a rich and successful New York City businessman (William Hurt). Alice leads a charmed and pampered life, full of shopping trips, massages and lunch dates with her girl friends. But something is missing from her life. Alice is possessed of a nameless ache and a yearning for something more out of life.

She visits a Chinatown herbalist (Keye Luke), who gives her a variety of alternative medicines (along with some hypno-therapy). Before you know it, Alice becomes invisible, she turns into an oversexed vamp, she sees and talks to the ghost of her dead first lover (Alec Baldwin) and even flies through the skies above Manhattan with him.

Alice begins to come out of her shell with the help of the doctor and she soon discovers that she's attracted to a handsome jazz musician (Joe Mantegna), whose child attends the same private school that Alice's children go to. Before you know it, the newly liberated Alice is having an affair with Joe. She enjoys it but she's also consumed by Catholic guilt. On one of her invisible adventures, she spies upon her husband in his office following a Christmas party and discovers that he is cheating on her. 

Devastated by this realization, Alice abandons both her lover and her husband, leaves New York and heads to India to work alongside Sister Theresa. She then returns to Manhattan a changed, contented and a fully realized woman.

Throughout the film, Alice wears a variety of over sized hats that make her look like a grown up version of the storybook character Madeline. She also wears red in many scenes, perhaps a visual cue of her adultery, expressed in scarlet hues (but no letters). 

ALICE was originally filmed in 1989 as THE MAGICAL HERBS OF DR. YANG. But Allen, always the perfectionist, fussed and obsessed over many details and went back and re shot much of the material before finally releasing it in 1990. His screenplay garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

What bothers me about ALICE, indeed, what bothers me about many of Allen's film, is his apparent obsession with adultery. The subject serves as a major plot element in many of his films including HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S SEX COMEDY, SEPTEMBER and others. It's a chief thematic concern that runs throughout his body of work but he often portrays it as an act which has little or no consequences, with several of his characters cheating on their spouses in his films and getting away with it. I'm not sure what kind of punishment I want to see meted out to those people or even if they do deserve punishment. After all, they're only human and humans make mistakes. But something about Allen's almost cavalier attitude towards adultery just doesn't sit right with me.

I still like Woody Allen and the majority of his films. I think he's one of the greatest filmmakers of the last fifty years. With as long a career as he's had (and continues to have), he can get away with a lesser film every once in awhile. ALICE is certainly one of those lesser works. It's entertaining and worth seeing at least once if you're an Allen fan but it's definitely not masterpiece material.

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