In a welcome return to straightforward comedy, erratic auteur Woody Allen laid off the arty melodramas in 1994, directing both an amusing made-for-TV film of his Broadway play, Don't Drink the Water, and this deft period farce, his most enjoyable movie in years.
At the height of the Roaring Twenties, Broadway playwright David Shayne (John Cusack) is an honest artist among the Philistines--until his backer, mobster Nicky Valenti (Joe Viterelli), sees Shayne's play as a vehicle for his ditzy showgirl mistress, Olive (Jennifer Tilly). Further concessions
are called for by grande dame of the thea-tuh Helen Sinclair (Diane Wiest). But Shayne's most effective critic is dese-and-dose hitman Cheech (Chazz Palminteri), who turns out to be a distinctly dangerous dramaturg.
Arguably, Allen continues his Great Masters series here, on the heels of the Fritz Lang chiaroscuro of SHADOWS AND FOG and the overripe Cassavetes stylings of HUSBANDS AND WIVES. Here he tips his hat to the Algonquin Round Table types he once emulated in his magazine prose--George S. Kaufman,
Moss Hart, Thurber, Perelman, even the Marx Brothers' backstage high jinks in A NIGHT AT THE OPERA. After his brush with the tabloids, Allen appears to be making good on his frequent claim that what he desires most from an adoring public is his privacy. This is the first Woody Allen film in which
neither he nor one of his romantic partners appears, and he's pruned back the autobiographical excess of several previous films. Moreover, everyone seems to be enjoying themselves, maybe for the first time since ANNIE HALL. leave a comment