Hollywood Ending (2002)

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While Woody Allen is happy to condemn The Curse of the Jade Scorpion in interviews, according to his conversations with Eric Lax he is still mystified why audiences didn’t like his follow-up, Hollywood Ending. He argues that it’s a good story, well executed and funny, but the Cannes Film Festival (which it opened) and the public disagreed.

Woody plays Val Waxman, a one-time prestige filmmaker now forced to make commercials in Canada. When his ex-wife Ellie (Téa Leoni), a producer, brings him the script of ‘The City That Never Sleeps’, he is offered the perfect chance to make a blockbuster set in his beloved New York – which would be perfect except for the fact that he would be working for his ex-wife and her studio-boss husband (Treat Williams). Before the first day of filming, Val is struck blind by a psychosomatic ailment, however he manages to somehow bumble through. In the end, the film is a big budget shambles, but Val enjoys his own Hollywood ending by winning back Ellie and having the film praised by the French.

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When I started rewatching Hollywood Ending this week I was enjoying it much more than I remembered it from a dozen or so years ago. Yes, Val’s ditzy actress girlfriend (played hilariously by Debra Messing) is hundreds of years younger than he is, and yes it’s very self-referential with the director wanting to shoot his movie in black and white with an all Cole Porter score. The general mood is very relaxed and very light (light years away from the frenetic camera and searing insight of Husbands and Wives) and there is even a little Hollywood satire thrown in for good measure.

But then the time ticked by, with the major plot twist of a movie director going blind not occurring until 40 minutes in. Like Small Time Crooks and Jade Scorpion, that’s it in terms of inventiveness. After that point the film just continues, with characters constantly recapping plot points and scenes that seem very trite by most standards and even more so by Woody’s. The scene in which Tiffani Thiessen attempts to seduce Woody (!) is just embarrassing.

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This is the first time this year I thought that Woody looks old, and that his film feels like that of an old man. The supporting cast is much younger (save for George Hamilton, a Hollywood figure whose role is hilariously never clearly defined). The scenes with Val’s estranged son, a punk in the most superficial rendering, seem tacked on.

It seems around this period that Woody was having a good time making comedies that appealed to him. But the fact that he was working with TV stars more than A-list movie actors, and the fact that audiences stayed away, suggest that no one else saw the joke. I wish I could have liked these last two comedies more this time around, but they both still seem tired and a shadow of former glories.

Next week: Anything Else

(Actually probably the week after. I’m on holiday hence the lateness of this post. Having too much fun in New York, which I idealise out of all proportion…)

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