Hollywood Ending (2002)

Directed by Woody Allen

I have a theory that every strength is a weakness (and conversely, every weakness is a strength). If ever there was evidence to support my theory it would be Woody Allen.

People either love or hate Allen, and it seems by extension, his movies too. I’ve met some people you couldn’t drag to a Woody Allen movie and others who have to be first in line when an Allen film opens. I am an apparent oddity in that I like Woody Allen and enjoy his films (or some of them) but I’m far from fanatical about him.

It is difficult for people to separate the man – his mannerisms and public style – from his movies. This is largely because his movies muddle the two. It’s part of his artistic approach. This melding of the two is what becomes his strength and weakness.

In Hollywood Ending we get a good example of this. In a nutshell, it is a film about an auteur kind of director who was once famous for his unique style but has now fallen from favour (which sounds, to some degree, like Allen). Of course, Woody Allen is the director – both in the film and of it.

The director’s former wife (Téa Leoni) is in a relationship with a Hollywood mogul of the contemporary kind. He’s all numbers – demographics and dollars. The wife is a producer. They have a property (The City That Never Sleeps, a film about New York) which the wife feels her ex-husband (Allen) is perfect to direct – it fits his style and interests (again like the real Allen).

After some negotiating it is decided to offer the director’s chair to Allen’s character. But Allen’s neurotic behavior and hypochondria get the best of him. On the day before shooting starts, he goes blind.

This is a very Woody Allen approach to stories. He takes an interesting and amusing idea (here, a blind director) and then starts playing with it. In this case, it becomes an excuse to poke some fun at himself, Hollywood and their somewhat strained relationship.

As with almost every Woody Allen film, it is an ensemble piece. He populates his movies with great actors, many of them well-known.

The end result is a movie that is both fun and funny. Hollywood Ending is one of the better Woody Allen movies. I think this is partly due to the fact that he really doesn’t attempt to do more than make an engaging comedy. The experimenting with style and subject that characterize many of his earlier films is not present here. In this movie, he goes with his strengths – his humour and his storytelling abilities.

In other words, referring back to the business of strengths being weaknesses and vice versa, his movies sometimes suffer from having Woody Allen in them. The Woody Allen presence doesn’t always suit his stories.

(For example, the idea of Woody Allen being a 1940’s era detective doesn’t quite work in The Curse of the Jade Scorpion).

But in Hollywood Ending he is perfectly suited for the subject, perhaps because it is loosely based on himself, or at least appears to be. The result is a winning comedy.

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