Alice (1990)


Could Woody follow Crimes and Misdemeanors with another masterpiece? No. There is no broad canvas and no deep insight in Alice. Of course there doesn’t have to be, but unfortunately I also found this week’s film fairly dull.

Alice (Mia Farrow) is an extremely wealthy stay-at-home mum, taking trips to Manhattan beauty salons and her children’s school in her limo. When she seeks help from a mysterious acupuncturist, Dr Yang (Key Luke), for a sore back, she is given hypnosis and magical herbs which not only render her invisible and change her personality, but allow her to reassess the shallow life she has been leading. Alice discovers her husband (William Hurt) is having an affair, then has an affair of her own with a musician (Joe Mantegna), also tries to be a writer and finally decides she needs to give up her luxurious lifestyle and move to Calcutta to help Mother Teresa.


In interviews Woody himself has pointed out that Alice is the comedy version of Another Woman, a story about a New York woman going through a mid-life crisis and rediscovering herself. The problem for me is that as a comedy it’s not that funny. I had the same reaction to A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, another film that audiences will either find charming or boring.

Alice marks a return to magic realism, with invisibility, some rudimentary flying visual effects and a ghost – in this case Alec Baldwin who remains mostly transparent. Alice also dishes up a lot of familiar Woody tropes, and while I’m usually forgiving, this is the first time I thought they had worn out their welcome. There’s the protagonist who visits a childhood home and interacts with their memories; there’s the mother who was once a movie star; there’s the desire to be creative but with nothing to say.

Alice4Alice also marks the beginning of a pattern in Woody’s films of having a cast that’s stacked with star performers. Alec Baldwin, Judy Davis, Blythe Danner and Cybill Shepherd get a couple of scenes each, while great character actors like Bernadette Peters and Bob Balaban are reduced to little more than a cameo. Bob Balaban’s scene is probably the film’s funniest, as one of several mild-mannered men who are overcome with desire for Alice once they accidentally drink a potion. Even supermodel of the day, Elle Macpherson, appears for a few seconds.

It’s nice to see Woody shifting his satire from the intellectual and artistic set to the Park Avenue set. While there is a lot of wisdom dispensed by Dr Yang, and by the movie itself, when the dramatic devices used are so hoary and lightweight, it never sounds that impressive. Also unusually for a Woody Allen film, there’s a very low energy to the performances and the pacing. Alice was not a box-office hit upon release, and unlike Another Women, it failed to delight me on this viewing.

Next week: Shadows and Fog



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