Ew. Just ew.

One of the problems Woody Allen faces when he is trying to defend himself against charges of pedophilia is how often the male protagonists in his films, usually well into middle age, pursue and win the affections of much, much younger women. Most notoriously, he cast himself, at age 42, as a man dating 17-year-old Mariel Hemingway in 1979’s Manhattan; this year, he revealed this story was based on his relationship with a high school student he met on the set of Annie Hall. In 1991, Allen left his longtime girlfriend Mia Farrow for her 19-year-old adopted daughter, Soon-yi Previn, who Allen has been married to since 1997. Dating women just above the age of consent is not pedophilia, of course, just very often icky, but Allen also been accused of molesting his and Farrow’s daughter Dylan when she was seven. Allen vehemently denied the charges, but that scandal was omnipresent in the early 1990s, even after the police decided they did not believe Dylan and a judge found the charges inconclusive. However, the charges reappeared last winter, when Dylan, now named Malone and an adult, repeated them in detail to Vanity Fair and then in an open letter in The New York Times. This set loose a deluge of blog posts, tweets, and status updates taking either Malone or Allen’s side, with everyone claiming to know a truth that time and emotion have made impossible to determine.

Rarely does Woody Allen use his films to comment on politics, let alone on his personal life. Neither his break up with Mia Farrow nor his relationships with Soon-yi seem to have been fictionalized in any concrete way. He often focuses on issues of love, shame, class, and beauty, but finding the connections in Allen’s plots and character to his actual life has been folly. That said, in his latest film, the slight romantic comedy Magic in the Moonlight, the connection and the commentary seem rather clear, making obligatory romance between the middle-aged man and much younger women much ickier than ever.

In the 1920s, Colin Firth plays Stanley, a stiff British rationalist who does not suffer fools gladly yet happily makes money fooling them as a stage magician named Wei Ling Soo. After a show one night in Berlin, an old friend and fellow magician named Simon (Simon McBurney) visits and asks Stanley if he’d be willing to come to the French Riviera and help unmask a woman pretending to be a psychic whose act is particularly skillful. Exposing fakers is one of Stanley’s favorite hobbies and his Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) lives nearby, so he agrees. Upon meeting Sophie (Emma Stone), the mystic in question, Stanley pokes and prods the beautiful, young American, but he is increasingly unnerved as she seems to be able to read his mind and know things only a psychic could. Within days, he is as taken in by her as the rich family she and her mother is staying with who has been hanging on her every word. The son Brice (Hamish Linklater) is in love with Sophie, who is coyly weighing his marriage proposal. But now Stanley is in love with her, too.

The film is, as all of Allen’s are, full of dialogue as witty, wise, and funny as the best written in English, and it is directed with the bounce and effervescence expected of his light comedies. Firth, who rarely plays anyone other than a witty fuddy-duddy does this particularly wonderfully, and Stone, the only young American actress who can compete with Jennifer Lawrence in a charm contest, is also delightful. They are cute together, but Firth is more than twice Stone’s age, and when they kiss, it’s truly creepy. But it is not as creepy as the connection between the plot and Allen’s life. Stanley is determined to expose the lie of a very young woman, a lie central to her and her mother’s survival. The lie, and the desire to expose and be taken in by it, seems to me to represent Malone’s claim of abuse and the ease by which people believed it. By the end of the film, Allen makes a pretty clear statement about magical thinking, but the resolution is not comforting for those discomfited by Allen’s predilections.

Magic in the Moonlight
Written and Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Colin Firth, Emma Stone, and Eileen Atkins
Rated PG-13

Destroyed by her own pretensions

Blue-Jasmine_cateI’m not sure why Woody Allen decided to set Blue Jasmine in San Francisco. He can turn a city into a main character of his films; from Manhattan to Vicki Cristina Barcelona to Midnight in Paris. But in Blue Jasmine, the city is neither lovingly shot nor does it really have a role to play other than as place for Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) to escape to after her life and her mind fall apart. It could have been Portland or San Diego or Skokie. And I always wonder how someone can set a story in San Francisco and not even make a casual reference to gay people. Or black people. The only Asian in Blue Jasmine plays a New York lawyer with one line who is passingly referred to as a “dragon lady.” But Woody Allen has never had a wide view of the world; in his more than 40 films, he has depicted an extremely small segment of American society, usually wealthy and upper middle class white people with profoundly neurotic interior lives. And he does this with unparalleled insight and humor and with some of the most interesting female characters in film history. In Blue Jasmine, he has provided Blanchett, arguably the greatest actress of her generation, her greatest role, a woman destroyed by her own pretensions.

Jasmine isn’t even her name; she was named Jeanette by the parents who adopted her and her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). In college, she renamed herself after the night-blooming flower to seem more interesting. She did something right, with her name and with the person she wanted to be seen as. She met Hal (Alex Baldwin) on Martha’s Vineyard when she was still in college, and she dropped out to marry him. He was New York financial mover and shaker, and when we meet Jasmine, it is after Hal has been arrested for massive fraud, after they lost their millions and their houses. Jasmine has moved to San Francisco to start anew, but also because her sister, a grocery store cashier, has agreed to take her in.

Ginger has two pudgy kids, a gruff ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay, no joke), a loud-mouthed mechanic boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale), and walk-up in the Mission (that no one working as a cashier could ever afford, but that’s neither here nor there). Jasmine is appalled that her life has come to this, and she has a hard time not expressing it, either in her affected Diane Sawyer accent or with her anxious frowns, or with a Stoli martini, or multiple doses of Xanax. She thinks she will be able to find her way back into the fold of the moneyed and powerful, and when she meets the perfect man (Peter Saarsgard), a diplomat with inexplicably large amounts of her money, she lies through her teeth to get him. Her denial is breathtaking, sometimes funny, but ultimately tragic.

Blue Jasmine is not the witty, literate romp of Midnight in Paris or the love-sex comedy of Vicki Christina Barcelona. Its comedy is in the nervous discomfort of class warfare, the clueless vapidity of the rich and capitalistic. It is Allen shredding New York’s myopic cruelty, both for our amusement and as guilt-free schadenfreude. We giggle, but Jasmine herself is not a comic character, and the lives both she and Ginger lead are not comic. Blanchett’s Jasmine is both reprehensible and sympathetic, while Hawkins’ Ginger is sweet, understanding, and as comfortable in her own skin and her lot in life as Jasmine is not with her own. Blanchett is so good and so flashy in her excellence that it’s easy to not notice how good Hawkins is, too. And it’s also easy not to notice how great, how sly and smart and scathing, Allen’s screenplay is. Despite Allen’s underuse of San Francisco, Blue Jasmine is yet another triumph for him. However, Blanchett is the one who will win the Oscar.

Blue Jasmine
Written and Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, and Alex Baldwin
Rated PG-13

Paris, je t’aime

I adored Woody Allen’s latest, Midnight in Paris. Here’s my review, which can also be found on the LGBT Weekly website.

Midnight in Paris
Written and directed by Woody Allen
Starring Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, and Rachel McAdams
Rated PG-13
Opens May 27
At Landmark Hillcrest and La Jolla

For the first 25 years of his career, Woody Allen couldn’t make a bad movie. In fact, he made several inarguable masterpieces like Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Then about 15 years ago – shortly after he left Mia Farrow for Farrow’s adopted daughter and was then accused of molesting his own daughter – Allen’s work became inconsistent. He made some great movies, like Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and some pretty lame ones, like Celebrity, Scoop, and Melinda and Melinda.

I am happy to say that his latest film, Midnight in Paris, is one of the good ones, a delightful, fantastical comedy about what happens when one of your greatest dreams comes true.

As in most of Allen’s comedies, if Allen isn’t the star, the lead actor is usually a stand-in for Allen. In Midnight in Paris, this time that stand-in is Gil, played to wide-eyed, neurotic, self-flagellating perfection by Owen Wilson. He is a successful screenwriter of terrible Hollywood hits, but he really wants to be a serious novelist, and the book he’s working on takes place in a nostalgia shop.

One night, after drinking with and being irritated by his family and friends, Gil decides to go for a midnight stroll through the city. After he gets lost, an old car rolls up and the Parisians inside beckon him with liquor and laughter. Gil gets in the car and ends up in the 1920s, when and where he encounters and befriends his literary and artistic idols, including F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali and Gertrude Stein, who agrees to critique Gil’s novel.

And he meets Adriana, Pablo Picasso’s girlfriend, who Gil quickly becomes infatuated with, a task not terribly surprising since she is played by slinky, stunning Marion Cotillard. Once Gil discovers that he can go back to the wondrous 1920s every night, his unsatisfying 2011 life becomes rather complicated, and those complexities make for classic comedic fodder.

Except when he was infatuated with a mediocre blonde actress like Mia Farrow or Scarlett Johansson, Allen has always cast his films perfectly, and every actor in Midnight in Paris makes the most of Allen’s trademark quick, pungent lines.

Wilson is perhaps the most fun to watch. He’s a limited actor; he never does anything much different from Wilson himself. But he’s never had the sort of material to work with that he does here, and as the film’s endearing, wry and amazed tour guide to post-war Paris, he does the best work of his career.

Every other role is comparatively small, but Rachel McAdams and Cotillard make the most of being Allen’s archetypes, respectively, of a harpy and an angel. Michael Sheen gets a laugh from his pretentious, “pedantic” character’s every ostentatious display of intelligence, and as Hemingway, Corey Stoll provides a parody of the great writer’s clipped diction and distinct bravado that is pitch perfect and more than a little sexy.