Advantage Allen

Match Point

Quick, what was the last Woody Allen film you saw? Husbands and Wives? Bullets over Broadway? If you’re like many fans, you may wince when you realize how long it’s been. Allen meanwhile has gone on, chugging away like the Energizer Bunny, turning out a film every year or so. Yet the impression his recent efforts convey is one of artistic exhaustion. They suggest a director caught in a rut, making the same movies over and over: gimmicky narrative experiments (Melinda and Melinda); light genre farces (Small Time Crooks); concept movies that shrink to a single joke (Hollywood Ending); or stale rehashes of metaphysical angst (Deconstructing Harry).

From the tiny splashes his films make these days, it’s hard to recall that Allen was once the biggest fish in the cinematic ocean. From the early 1970s to the mid-'80s, he dominated the zeitgeist with his trademark highbrow-lowbrow confections of existential dread, Freudian entanglement, and Henny Youngmanesque shtick. Combining pithy portrayals of New York City life with a glory-struck romance of old movies and a love-hate affair with psychoanalysis, Allen’s movies showed us how to be smart and funny; in the process he elevated the nerdy nebbish into a pop-culture icon, making an unlikely hero out of a 135-pound, neurosis-ridden New York Jew. Neurosis could be heroic because it represented the examined life—the examined life...

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About the Author

Rand Richards Cooper is Commonweal's contributing editor.