Doodad Kind of Town

Come back to Manhattan, Woody Allen, Woody Allen!
January 28, 2008, 12:05 am
Filed under: Woody Allen

“Cassandra’s Dream” is the worst Woody Allen movie in years – and that’s really saying something considering he’s already foisted upon us “Hollywood Ending,” “Curse of the Jade Scorpion,” “Anything Else” and “Melinda and Melinda” just since the turn of the century. It’s illogical, poorly written, and sleep-inducing at the very moments when it ought to be putting you on the edge of your seat.

Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell play brothers from a hardscrabble Cockney family who dream of obtaining the good life. Farrell, a lovable grease monkey with a gambling addiction, dreams of just being able to provide a nice home and the occasional lovely trinket for his sweet, adoring girlfriend (nicely played by Sally Hawkins). McGregor, on the other hand, has bigger fish to fry; he’s eager to invest in luxury hotels and impress his actress girlfriend (Hayley Atwell). Farrell runs up huge, unpayable gambling debts, while McGregor is desperate to lure the beautiful Atwell away from all the other potential suitors lining up at the stage door. These guys need a lot of cash and they need it now.

Enter their uncle Howard, who just happens to be a top Hollywood plastic surgeon with plenty of income to spare. Good old Uncle Howard is played by Tom Wilkinson with just enough thunder and madness to suggest he hasn’t quite shaken off his raging bi-polar nutjob character from “Michael Clayton.” When he shows up, “Cassandra’s Dream” – which was pretty ridiculous to begin with – goes completely off the rails.

(Warning: there are potential spoilers ahead, so if I can’t dissuade you from seeing this steaming turd of a movie, don’t read the next few paragraphs.)

The pivotal scene in which the brothers ask their uncle for money – and he asks for a favor in return – is laughably underscored with rumbling thunder at climactic moments. Seems Uncle Howard’s business affairs are being investigated and he is potentially looking at years in jail. Farrell asks incredulously what his uncle has done, and Wilkinson roars in return,”You don’t get to where I have in life playing by the book!!!”

Exactly what book is he throwing out the window? (Hopefully not the one titled “How to Perform Safe, Effective Cosmetic Surgery”) I mean, he’s a plastic surgeon for God’s sakes! He’s not Charles Foster Kane or the head of Enron; what’s the worst he could have done? Overcharged for nose jobs? Given Restylane treatments to aging actresses in exchange for kinky sexual favors? Are there really jail terms for that kind of stuff?

Of course, there’s someone who knows what Uncle Howard’s been up to – someone who’s “had dealings” with him (whatever that means), and if the boys would just quietly knock him off, they can get their money and live happily ever after. What choice do they have? Uncle gets his favor, the brothers get their money, but the happy ending is not to be. Farrell is tormented by their dirty deed, while McGregor just wants to get off to California with his girlfriend in tow. Ultimately, McGregor is forced to make a painful decision in order to save his and his uncle’s hides.

The real tragedy is that Farrell actually gives quite a good performance in this film. He’s sweet in his scenes with Hawkins, and heartbreaking in his latter scenes when the weight of what he’s done proves too much to bear. Alone among an otherwise distinguished case of actors, Farrell actually transcends the horridness of the lines he’s been given to speak. (There isn’t one line of dialogue in this film that sounds like anything a real person would have ever said, at any time.) Farrell is the only thing that kept me awake, frankly. (Although he didn’t have the same effect on the gentleman sitting behind me, who snored loudly through most of the movie.)

I miss the old days when Woody made movies in New York – when his characters cracked wise about sex and psychoanalysis, strolled through Central Park, waited online at the art house to see Ingmar Bergman flicks, and listened to Louis Armstrong records. It was a insular world, but one Allen understood well, and mined effectively for both drama and laughs. Setting his films in London does nothing to enhance them; they don’t really take advantage of their setting to any degree. I’m not excessively knowledgeable about London, but I’m pretty sure that there many interesting things happening there besides lower-class lads struggling to get rich and resorting to murder in order to do so. It’s time for the Woodman to come home. Unfortunately, his next film is set in Barcelona, rather than Manhattan. It remains to be seen what that will do for him, but one thing is sure: he’d be hard pressed to make anything as bad as “Cassandra’s Dream” next time around.

2 Comments so far
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Worse than Scoop?? I think not.Saw this over the weekend, and though I didn’t despise it as you did, I certainly wasn’t impressed, either. Agree that Farrell was great, and played against type. I thought the ending was lazy as well.

Comment by Fletch

Actually, I kinda liked “Scoop” – it had a silly, throwaway style of comedy reminiscent of Woody’s earliest films. It was ridiculous, of course, but I found it pleasant enough.

Comment by Pat

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