[“To Rome With Love” — see trailer above] is Woody Allen’s 47th film as a director, and at this point, you are either a card-carrying fan of his nebbishy protagonists, his jittery dialogue, and his quirky leading ladies, or you just aren’t buying it. This is not to say that being a fan requires you to love all of his movies, because there were certainly some stinkers along the way. But as a maker of movies, you either believe that Woody Allen knows a thing or two about how it’s done or you think he is downright terrible at his job.
I was discussing the Woody Allen Problem with someone who has firmly placed himself in the latter category. For him, there is nothing palatable about any of Allen’s movies. In response to my sputtering defense of the importance and greatness of some of his films he said, “You know, I am getting to a point in my life where I am worrying less about catching up on important things and just focusing on things I’m sure will make me happy. Statistically, Woody Allen movies are a roll of the die, you know.” I do know. And so does Woody Allen; this, ironically, is the premise many of his films are built on.
By this point, I wouldn’t cross the room to see a Woody Allen movie, and I used to be such a big fan of his that I once actually planned a vacation to Paris around the premiere of an Allen movie (1991’s “Shadows and Fog”; it stank) which Allen launched in France before the US. But he has the Rolling Stones Problem, which is he is out of creative juice, and has been for a long, long time, yet keeps on going. At least with the Stones it can be fun to see them play the oldies. Film directors don’t have that opportunity.
I don’t begrudge any director their clunkers, but Allen has been all-clunker for a long, long time. The last enjoyable Allen movie that I saw was the flibbertigibbety musical “Everyone Says I Love You,” which was delightful, but was also, what, 15, 16 years ago? The last great Allen movie was “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” back in 1989. Since then, it’s been mostly dreck. Some people loved 2005’s “Match Point,” and called it a return to form; I didn’t get that. You can only sit through so much “Mighty Aphrodite” and “Sweet and Lowdown” before you realize Woody Allen is out of gas.
I did subject myself recently to “Midnight in Paris,” his most recent film. It’s about an American writer on a trip to Paris who has a magical set of experiences in which he is taken on tours of the city by Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and members of the Lost Generation. It’s hard to overstate what a sucker I am for this movie and its plot. But after the glorious 10-minute opening montage of Paris (which recalls Allen’s opening montage for “Manhattan,” set to “Rhapsody in Blue,” and for my money one of the most exhilarating passages of filmmaking in the history of cinema), the movie descends into third-rate pantomime. A total disappointment.
At some point, Woody Allen should have stopped making movies, or at the very least slowed down. I say that, but I know good and well that they will have to pry my cold, dead, arthritic hands off my keyboard one day, because as long as I can write, I’m going to have to write. Fish gotta swim, writer’s gotta write. Still, Allen was great once, and it’s too bad to see him going through the motions, declining steeply towards senescence.