Mighty Aphrodite

1995, Movie, R, 95 mins


In MIGHTY APHRODITE, a nerd's revenge fantasy -- yet again -- from putative genius Woody Allen, our hero pits his romantic sensibilities against feckless women and crass consumerism. Yet again. And lest we forget how serious he is deep down, he gives us a Greek chorus.

We know they're The Chorus because they look like tag-sale statuary (if you can overlook the distinctly post-Classical schnozzes sported by F. Murray Abraham and Olympia Dukakis), and they mill around in a boulder-strewn sandpit spouting strophes -- or what might pass for strophes in the Borscht Belt.

Do you really need to hear a Sophoclean chorus make Oedipus jokes? Psychiatrist jokes? Old Oedipus and psychiatrist jokes? "They charge $200 an hour," the chorus bleats, "and that's a 50-minute hour!" Oedipus himself made that joke in 446 BC, and not even his mother laughed. Now the topper: "And I hate to tell you what they call Oedipus in Harlem!" Ta-da-bum!

Is there no one in Allen's circle who dares to tell the master this ain't funny?

MIGHTY APHRODITE had its North American premiere last month at the Toronto International Film Festival, where buzzmakers called it mean and self-serving. You have to wonder: Why would Woody cast Helena Bonham Carter, the sourest actress in Judeo-Christendom, as his witchy wife, unless he fully intended to suck up all the sympathy for himself?

Poor Woody/Lenny. He's not a writer but a sportswriter. And a scrawny one who just happens to be followed around by this Greek chorus that comments on his disagreeable life. Tragedy and humiliation lurk down every alley. His marriage is coming apart. But when his wife, Amanda, isn't preoccupied with the blandishments of suave artmeister Jerry (Peter Weller), she demands a baby.

A baby! Lenny doesn't want a baby. They're both too busy to deal with a pregnancy. And when Amanda suggests adoption, Lenny's offended: Not only are his genes award-winning, he won't adopt "for the same reason I won't lease a car -- pride of ownership." Yet he relents; years later, off goes Lenny in search of the baby's mother, whom he finds in the person of hooker and occasional porno star Linda Ash, aka Judy Cum, a latter-day Irma La Douce played by Mira Sorvino.

The good news is that MIGHTY APHRODITE comes alive when Sorvino is onscreen. Her Linda is the largest cute woman on Earth, a 6-foot Minnie Mouse with a closetful of wigs and high heels who voices her comic suspicions about Lenny in a voice that sounds like it was dubbed by Kukla. The bad news? As Woody/Lenny dallies with this conspicuously younger woman, making his case for dumb, beautiful and innocent, it's impossible not to remember details of Allen's private life that we'd all rather forget. Though he's done two films since the Mia/Soon Yi fiasco, only now has the production cycle caught up with Woody's world. Inevitably, this movie plays like an invitation to hear the story, at long last, his way.

Seen in that light, it's not so much mean as defensive. Woody, after all, could have bailed out Polanski-style to Paris, where wild seed-sowing in the name of love is still tolerated, even venerated. It's to his credit that he bit the bullet and stuck around Dodge City.

Even so, both the director and his audience could have done without this tiresome apologia. It's high time for Woody to make like a tragic hero, accept his fate and move on. leave a comment --Harlan Jacobson

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