Tuesday, April 6, 2010


When I first started watching Alice, the idea was that I would not be obligated to write about it. Thing is, this had become something of a chore - part of the reason I went on a brief hiatus already - and I wanted to rediscover why I kept writing about these films, and maybe enjoy watching them again. Without that obligation, I was somehow free to actually enjoy Alice again, and was so bursting with things to say about the film that I couldn't leave this little project alone. Hooray!

Don't take that to say Alice is an unimpeachable work of staggering genius though.

What it is, is a Woody Allen film from 1990. If there's one thing everyone can agree with about Allen is that he's kind of a creepy old man. However, a second thing everyone can agree on is that his work tends to be wildly inconsistent, as he tries to do a film a year whether he needs to or not. Did 1990 need Alice? Well, maybe.

Alice is Mia Farrow, a lovely attractive wealthy lady married to slightly sleepy Doug (William Hurt) - I've come to realize that Hurt is the sleepiest actor ever, though it helps here. She lives in a world of pedicures, shopping and superficiality, and is shocked to the core when she meets Joe - played real life Joe, Joe Mantegna - who is interesting and prone to wearing more casual clothes and playing the saxophone - Allen desperately wants to make the saxophone unbearably sexy, possibly because he... isn't. She goes to visit a mystical Chinese Yoda substitute named Dr. Yang (Keye Luke), who proceeds to give her magical drugs which help her learn about herself, provide convenient ways of moving the story forward, and eventually lead to an utterly painful party scene late film.

Alice, both the character and the film, are very silly. Ghosts, hallucinations, opium dreams and an invisibility tonic all work to guide her into "finding herself", which apparently means making a weak attempt at being a writer and shagging an Italian guy. It tries a bit too hard to make a point about the superficiality and wealth, and Hurt's character is played as so much of a dick that the climactic choice seems hollow. Chinese Yoda is a bit too convenient and to get the story moving, which saps a lot of the humanity from the story. Plus, his collection of whatever herbs are way too convenient, and a cop out when what is really needed is strong plotting.

That said, the film is often funny, there are some good shots, and when Allen trusts himself with these characters, rather than losing his way in supernatural BS, it has moments of beauty and genius. It's just that he doesn't seem to trust himself as much as a guy who had, at that point, made several beloved comedies. It is like Alice herself, stuck in superficial things and not willing to trust itself to just let these characters move in a natural manner.

In essence, the problem I have is that the supernatural doesn't add anything and is used as a crutch, and a good movie could be made by simply getting rid of the lot and instead focusing on the core characters and their relationships. It has moments of good, make no mistake, but it is too timid and uncertain to have a full two hours of good.

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