Rumour has it that most Hollywood 'stars' await a sometimes elusive phone call, the siren summons to appear in a Woody Allen film, much the same as they previously coveted a role in one of Robert Altman's marvelous ensemble dramas. Despite paying well below their expected regular fees, there was always a certain cache to working with these two directors -- however uncommercial the resulting movie. Consider the main cast in the above London-set film: Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin (looking rather pudgy), Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto as well as a host of highly respected -- if not internationally starry -- British actors. You would have every reason to expect something special.
Now if you check back my reviews, you will find that I have always been an Allen advocate, always finding something worthwhile amongst his output even as they have become less and less fashionable. A critical rallying cry for many of his more recent films has been "a return to form", a standard critique for nearly every other release, e.g. "Melinda and Melinda", "Vicky Christina Barcelona", "Midnight in Paris". Whereas I have consistently enjoyed nearly all of them apart from the exception that proves the rule: "Hollywood Ending" (2002), a misfire which has just about disappeared off the earth. However I am sorry to have to add the above film to the very short list of Allen confections which just haven't worked for me.
Despite the sparkling cast with their master-class acting, the movie is unusually cynically sour, very low on any sort of joy factor. Gemma Jones plays wealthy Hopkins' discarded, but financially well-off wife, who finds her only comfort in the advice proffered by quack fortuneteller Pauline Collins. He in turn is striving to recapture the virility of his youth by exercise and diet and is easily roped in by Lucy Punch's uncultured and scheming golddigger. Their daughter Sally (Watts) is married to one-trick author Brolin who is unable to repeat the success of his first novel, forcing the couple into a hand-to-mouth existence, subsidised by Jones. Watts works for established art gallery supremo Banderas whilst dreaming of opening her own gallery and possibly creating a spark in her boss' heart as well. Brolin meanwhile becomes obsessed with the woman in red (Pinto) who has newly moved in across the block and works to establish a relationship with her although she is engaged to be married shortly; he also appropriates the scintillating manuscript that only he has read, written by a close friend 'killed' in a car accident, planning to pass it off as his own brilliant breakthrough.
Spoiler alert: everthing goes disastrously wrong for all of them bar Jones, as one by one their dreams are smashed. Jones does not meet the tall, dark stranger promised by her guru, but she does meet a dumpy, widower who shares her interest in the occult and they eventually get it on once he has received approval from beyond the grave from his late wife. Pinto breaks her engagement after falling for the soon-to-be successful Brolin who then discovers that his friend isn't in fact dead, but about to emerge from a coma. The now separated Watts learns that Banderas isn't at all interested in her, but ready to divorce his wife for her close friend Anna Friel, and that Collins has advised Jones not to invest any money in the gallery her daughter demands. Poor old Hopkins who sorely wants a son to replace one that he lost, soon discovers that his new bride may be pregnant but that the baby she is carrying is unlikely to be his. He now realises what he has lost in Jones and begs her to take him back to provide the comfort he needs in his final years -- but too late, for she has found her own soulmate. Yes, it's all about hopes and relationships, but the unusually bitter Allen seems to take pleasure here in smashing everyone's dreams into increasingly small smithereens.
This leaves the elusive, and I understand purportedly dreadful ,"Cassandra's Dream' (2007) as the only Allen movie I've not seen. However, I have every confidence that each of his next annual releases will continue to rekindle my affections for a very long time to come.