Woody Allen’s 1990 film Alice after
all these years brought on many emotions. I instruct the students in my Film
History class at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, that one must
always judge a film within the context of when it was released. These days,
it’s difficult to do so with the formidable filmography of Woody Allen. Can one
put aside the context of when this film
was released? Alice was made while the
writer/director’s relationship with his star, Mia Farrow, was supposedly still rosy,
less than a couple of years before the familial scandal erupted that has dogged
the filmmaker ever since. Can one ignore the presence—throughout the film—of
young Dylan Farrow, playing the role
of Alice’s daughter? Or, ironically, the small role played by James Toback in the film? (Readers
familiar with what’s been going on in Hollywood lately will understand that
the same time, Cinema Retro’s
editor-in-chief recently said, “What, are we to pretend that Allen’s entire
career never existed? Our job is to evaluate the artistry, not the personal
morality. Otherwise we’d quickly run out of people to write about.”
I couldn’t help examining Alice as an
omniscient behind-the-scenes spectator. Oddly, I’ve reviewed several new
Blu-ray releases of Allen’s movies for Cinema
Retro over the past few years, and I’ve never felt this kind of discomfort.
That doesn’t mean I can’t critique the movie’s merits, it’s just that Woody
Allen’s oeuvre now comes with baggage.
One must simply unpack it and look at what’s there on the screen.
Alice is actually a pretty
good entry in the director’s work. Considering that he’s made nearly fifty
films, this one probably belongs in the lower half of the list in ranking, but
certainly nowhere near the bottom. It’s a solid 2-1/2 or 3-star effort (out of
4), mainly due to Mia Farrow’s excellent performance as the mousy but rich
Manhattan housewife who desperately wants to change her life—but doesn’t know
is married to wealthy, but stuffy, Doug (William Hurt), who has a high-powered
job. This leaves Alice to tend to her two small children (when they’re not
cared for by nannies and maids), hang out with her socialite friends, and get
her nails and hair done. It’s a very superficial life until she meets Joe (Joe
Mantegna), a divorced father, at her children’s school. Another hard left turn
is when Alice visits a mysterious Chinese doctor (Keye Luke), who hypnotizes
her, gives her strange herbs to take, and pushes her into a fantasy world that
turns her own upside down.
many ways, Alice is a companion piece
to The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985),
another of Allen’s more whimsical pieces that deals with fanciful situations.
In Alice, Farrow’s character can
become invisible and spy on people, she can meet up with her deceased first
boyfriend (Alec Baldwin) and fly over the city with him, and she can recreate
childhood memories involving her parents and sister. It’s these elements that
make Alice a fun, if fluffy, romp. It
is also in many ways somewhat an homage to Federico Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits (1965), in which a
bored housewife ventures into fantasy sequences to escape the doldrums of her
philandering husband and to better her own life.
owns the movie. For most of it, Alice is timid, nervous, and hesitant to try
new things—but Farrow infuses these qualities with a great deal of charm. She
literally lights up the screen with beauty and a winning pathos. Then there are
the moments when she breaks out of this “shell”—such as when one of the
doctor’s herbs makes her suggestive and flirtatious, notched up to eleven. Her seduction scene with Joe in
the school waiting area is not only hilarious, but her transformation is masterful. One comes away from it
thinking, “Wow, I didn’t know Mia Farrow could do that!” (Farrow was nominated
for a Golden Globe—and she won the Best Actress award from the National Board
of Review—for her performance.)
Other notable actors that appear in the film in small parts or cameos include Blythe Danner, Judy Davis, Bernadette Peters, Cybill Shepherd, Gwen Verdon, Bob Balaban, June Squibb, Caroline Aaron, and Elle Macpherson. Alice is a fun picture to watch and go, “Oh, look, there’s…!”
Allen received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay for Alice. His direction is fine, especially with Carlo Di Palma’s gorgeous cinematography creating the imagery. A minor criticism could be that the film runs about fifteen minutes too long.
Twilight Time’s Blu-ray limited edition of 3,000 units looks terrific in 1080p High Definition—it practically glows in its warm colors. The audio is 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, and the isolated score track is a delight with the usual old-school jazz numbers. The only supplement is the theatrical trailer. Julie Kirgo supplies the essay within the enclosed booklet.
So, the best advice is to do your best to put aside what baggage you might have with Woody Allen for a short time. Alice isan enjoyable piece of whimsy—you may be surprised by its allure.