Woody Allen isn’t exactly a hot name in Hollywood these days. Still, there’s something about a Woody Allen film that incites eager anticipation, especially in New York. Not many directors can fill a weekday afternoon screening, but the first presentation of Hollywood Ending had critics sitting in the aisles.
Unlike the inspired films of his early career, Allen’s most recent movies have been merely pleasant trifles. His formula has become so ingrained in moviegoing culture that it almost doesn’t matter what each new film is actually about. Accordingly, if you like Woody Allen films, chances are, you’ll like this one. If not, then there’s probably not much here to make you change your mind.
In Hollywood Ending, Allen plays – what else – a hypochondriacal film director named Val Waxman whose neurosis have finished him in Hollywood. When his ex-wife (Téa Leoni) gets him a gig directing a movie for her new lover’s studio, his agitation and anxiety cause him to develop psychosomatic blindness. Desperate to regain his former status as a filmmaker, he schemes to keep his ailment a secret, and goes about directing his new film without being able to see. Intermittent hilarity ensues.
There’s much to like here, especially Leoni, whose comic abilities are put to perfect use as Allen’s main foil. Beautiful and funny, she holds her own brilliantly opposite Allen’s stock character. And Isaac Mizrahi steals his brief scene as a production designer who, despite proclaiming that every location in the script is “out there in the city, waiting to be found”, insists that two locations must be built from scratch: Times Square and Harlem. One huge misfire is Debra Messing, in a standard-issue bimbo role. She does her best Jennifer Tilly impersonation, but her best isn’t nearly good enough. Fortunately, it’s a small role; she disappears in the middle of the film and is almost forgotten by the time she pops back up for the ending.
At once hokey and clever, Hollywood Ending may not set any box office records, and Woody’s method is slightly (okay, seriously) worn. But much like hearing an oft-told story by a doddering uncle over holiday dinner year after year, there’s a comfort attained by watching a Woody Allen film that’s intensely satisfying. Hollywood Ending is more than a movie, it’s the cinematic equivalent of a pepperoni slice or an everything bagel with a schmear. It’s comfort food, New York-style.