Blasphemy! I like this rain in June and I didn’t like the new Woody Allen movie


As I write this, a steady rain is falling outside my front window. I’m listening to the rain drops hitting the pavement of my cul-de-sac and the shiny green leaves of the camellia bushes. The air is cool but feels clean, new.

I love it.

This rain is supposed to make me depressed or upset that summer hasn’t started yet and, that, weather-wise, it feels like we time traveled back to January. I’ve heard people gripe, including the KGO-810 weather guy Lloyd Lindsay Young. On Tuesday, he talked about how the weather was going to get “worse” this week because the rain was expected to continue and the temperatures would be 20 to 30 degrees below normal.

So, maybe he really thinks that or he’s pandering to what he believes his audience wants to hear. When he advised listeners that there was a possibility of another storm coming in on Friday, I would have started clapping if I didn’t have my hands on the wheel of my car.

As some of you know, I grew up in Walnut Creek, so I ‘m accustomed to how the weather is supposed to be in the first week of June. Warm and sunny, although through June, we do typically get days of fog rolling in.

I always found the regular dry spell from April or May all the way through September and October to be oppressive. I don’t mind our hot days, as long as the 100-plus days don’t go on longer than a week, as they did during that incredible heat wave a few years ago. But 90-, 95-:, 100-degree weather? The better to hit Clarke Memorial Swim Center and do some laps.

But without the cleansing provided by an occasional batch of rain–which almost never happens during summer here–the blue skies above always start to grow brown layers of smog and muck.

I went to college outside Chicago, and, yes, experienced several bruising Chicago winters–something I never want to live through again. I also lived through the humidity of a Chicago summer. Couldn’t do the humidity every summer the rest of my life. But with the humidity I could at least look forward to that promise of occasional summer storms, and those, to me, are soothing and exciting at the same time.

I like rain. It is active, and it can be romantic and dramatic, especially as you see storm clouds moving across the sky–the heavens massing for some grand announcement–and hear the wind blowing through the trees. I like rain in the fall, winter, spring–and summer. I loved the rainy season in Thailand where my husband and I lived for three years. Every day, a big storm would roll through Bangkok, dump rain, pound thunder, hurl lightening, sometimes flood the streets. It would definitely clean up the air, which in this sprawling Asian megalopolis was generally choked with the exhaust of hundreds of thousands of cars, buses, motorcycles and tuk-tuks clogging up the streets. When we lived up in Humboldt County, I loved going for walks on the beach or driving along Highway 101 as a winter storm was coming in over the roiling, steel gray Pacific Ocean.

For the most part I like the weather we have in Walnut Creek. I just wish we would get those occasional summer storms. This rain? Loving it. However, I am sorry if it’s still raining on Saturday and it mucks up plans for the Chamber of Commerce’s Art and Wine Festival or the dedication ceremony for the new 23 acres of open space along Acalanes Ridge.

Speaking of the romance of a rainy day, I saw Woody Allen’s latest Midnight in Paris. His protagonist, Gil, played out by Owen Wilson, is made out to be a romantic, sympathetic guy. One signal that he is sensitive, thoughtful and therefore lovable is because he loves to walk around the streets of Paris in the rain. He thinks any city looks more beautiful in the rain.

On this point, I think the film hit the nail on the head. Yes, any city takes on a rich and more tender quality in the rain.

The rest of the movie? I heard KGO radio host Ronn Owens gush about it, and some friends have Facebooked or emailed about how wonderful and charming it is-Allen’s best in years.

So sorry, I do not agree.

And, I’m someone who always loved Woody Allen and still love his early comedies (Take the Money and Run, Sleeper, Play it Again, Sam, Love and Death) and his forays into drama and more avant garde film. I recently watched Annie Hall for, like, the 50th time. My son loves Allen’s early comedies and he liked Annie Hall. I can watch Manhattan, Hannah and her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors again and again. And, yes, I’ve even sat through some of his “experiments” from that era (September anyone? His attempt at Bergman?) and came away thinking, well, at least that was interesting.

Another of his films I really like was Husbands and Wives, which he released in 1992 soon after The Scandal. That was when he was caught having an affair with the 22-year-old adopted daughter of his longtime lover, Mia Farrow. Some people couldn’t watch Husbands and Wives after news of the affair broke, and then Mia accused him of molesting their daughter together. They thought the bitterness of the relationship between Allen and Farrow as married spouses too closely mirrored Allen and Farrow’s real-life relationship. Because of Allen’s betrayal, some people vowed never to see another Allen film again.

I found most of his movies since then to be disappointing, including Deconstructing Harry, Match Point, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, all three of which had the critics and Allen fans swooning and proclaiming “Woody is back.”

As an artist, Allen always lived in a certain rarified world of New York City’s intelligentsia and social elite. But at least in his earlier films–probably Manhattan Murder Mystery and before–he tended to have an ear for how people in this rarified world lived and talked. So, you could believe that we were watching human beings really struggling with the challenges of modern romance and other moral questions–and you would relate and you would care.

Even Allen’s great female characters had dimensions that made them intriguing and lovable–even as much as he was often criticized for not being able to adequately write female roles. I’m talking Diane Keaton in any of her roles. Same goes for Dianne Wiest in Hannah and her Sisters, and Mia Farrow in many of hers. Farrow was a smart and beautiful documentary film producer in Crimes and Misdemeanors and wonderful as the passive-aggressive wife in Husbands and Wives, her last film with Allen. Angelica Huston as the doomed stewardess lover of Martin Landau in Crimes and Misdemeanors and Judy Davis as the uptight, perfectionist wife in Husbands and Wives also were brilliant. Sorry, I didn’t appreciate Mira Sorvino in her Academy Award winning performance in Mighty Aphrodite (1995) because–well–this was one of those Allen movies where I think he had lost his ear for how people talk, act, move through their lives. He also showed his increasing reliance on stereotypes and outlines of characters, rather than on putting in the work of creating real charaters.

No, I wasn’t crazy about Match Point or Vicky Cristina Barcelona either. More blasphemy!

They were fine, but not great. Crimes and Misdemeanors handled the story and moral implications of a man dispatching an inconvenient mistress much more intelligentally, truthfully and succinctly than than Match Point, which was filled with a generally unconvincing story line, stock characters, and an annoying, one-dimensional supposed-to-be-smoldering Scarlett Johansson as the needy, neurotic mistress.

Yeah, I could see Jonathan Rhys-Myers’ social climbing tennis player sleeping with her once, but becoming obsessed with her? Allen wrote a one-note, one-dimensional role for Johanssonmm, said to be his one-time muse.

Her character became boring after about 10 minutes, as did most everyone else in the movie. These characters and their desires and struggles stopped convincing me after about a half hour.

The key word here is “convincing,” a word emphasized by the British novelist E.M Forster in his book Apects of the Novel, one of the most influential books ever written about the craft of story telling and character development.

No, the characters don’t need to believable in the sense that you believe these are real people or that their situations are based on real life. We are talking about fictional characters. But for any fiction to work well–whether it’s a hack Hollywood script, a literary novel, a Lifetime made for TV movie–the characters and their situations neeed to be convincing.That’s Forster’s big message.

Allen’s characters in Midnight in Paris are so far from convincing in that they are one-dimensional, obvious, stock. They seemed to be thrown together by a an artist, working at hack levels, to create characters and a story. The contrivance and manipulation seethes out of this film.

So, Owen Wilson plays the hack Hollywood writer who no longer wants to be a sell-out and wants to do “real” writing-as in literary fiction? Please. That’s so old school.

Then there is his nagging, rich bitch fiance, played by Rachel McAdams who–guess what, surprise surprise!–doesn’t like to walk in the rain. That the Owen Wilson character tries to stick with her for more than 10 minutes of this film defies fictional logic.

The Hemingway in Paris in this time travel movie also played into every CliffNotes stereotype that people have of Hemingway. Maybe I’m a fool, but I would have expected a more creative and subtle character from Allen. But, as I’ve come to learn over the years, Allen’s writing has become lazy–so lazy that this Hemingway deliverss a lines containing the line “grace under pressure.” Ha ha ha ha ho.

Of course, Marion Cotillard, as the fashion student out of the 1920s who enchants Wilson, was beautiful. What’s not to love about Cotillard, with her fatalistic, intelligent loveliness? Now that Catherine Deneuve has slowed down her film output, I nominate Cotillard as the most beautiful woman alive working in film. But I lost respect for her Adriana character, as well as Kathy Bates’ Gertrude Stein, when the two women gushed about the opening sentences from the “literary novel” Wilson’s Gil–Allen’s Midnight in Paris‘ personal stand-in–shared with them. The writing in Gil’s novel is almost as uninspiring and unoriginal as Allen’s writing for his Midnight in Paris characters.

I know people who tried to make it as “hack” Hollywood screen writers. It’s high-risk, and its super hard work. I happen to think there are great writers working in Hollywood today, especially those penning for some of the top-quality cable TV shows: Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire. Also, the literary publishing industry is, itself, a bit of a popularity contest and a racket. If Allen is saying that gravitating toward the literary publishing world is somehow more noble and pristine than Hollywood, well, that view is rather old-fashioned and naive. Maybe that sentiment would have worked in the 1930s when F. Scott Fitzgerald was supposedly abandoning his talent and ideals to write scripts in Hollywood.

But to pose that position for characters in a story that starts out set in 2010? Sorry. This sort of conceit shows how Allen has lost touch with the contemporary cultural currents. That is what was so exciting about his films in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. They did feel like they had their fingers on the pulse.

There’s a whole generation of Woody Allen fans who want to fall in love again with Woody Allen. These are the people who crowded the theaters at the Embacardero Center Cinema and the Dome at Pleasant Hill’s Cinearts over the weekend. Gosh, these fans remind me of patient, wishful lovers in a really good Woody Allen film. They will convince themselves that anything their idol produces is charming, lovely and original. I say this as someone who continues to try out Allen’s films, hoping to find a spark of charm, loveliness and originality, and walking away disappointed and annoyed.

I think his writing has become lazy, his connection to humanity has become even more isolated, and the results are tedious and almost insulting to the intelligence of his audiences. He could do better–but maybe he doesn’t care. He’s rich, he’s living his comfortable life. He’s now 76, so maybe he wants to keep his hand in movie making but without a real artist’s effort to take risks and push the boundaries.

I have to ask, who is the hack here? His Midnight in Paris protagonist, Gil who has been writing scripts in Hollywood? Meanwhile, Allen, the indie film elder statesmen, continues to think he can write in cliches and stereotypes because he has audiences who will buy it. You can call me a disappointed, bitter ex.

One thought on “Blasphemy! I like this rain in June and I didn’t like the new Woody Allen movie

  1. I live in the north west of England which means we have 50 different types of rain…all off them begining with effing! it really needs to be hot in W.C. when the family and I arrive in a few weeks.

    Like

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