We are on record as being, to our occasional embarrassment, tremendous Woody Allen fans, and, as such, we found it impossible to turn down a proffered invitation to schlep to Lincoln Center last night for not only a screening of his forthcoming project, Match Point, but also a pre-screening Q&A with the Woodman himself. This was particularly exciting for us because, while our parents once bumped into Woody and his child bride in a hotel in Venice, where our mother is convinced she delivered a charming witticism to him in the hotel's lobby, we've never actually seen the man except on film. We were curious to see the movie, and we were equally curious to see him in person.
So how was it?
We are pleased to report that Woody in person looks precisely like Woody on film — the same delivery, the hand gestures, and same voice, the same baggy sportscoat and khakis, the same self-deprecation.
We are less pleased to report that the Q&A was largely a bust. Few in the audience will say that, we're sure, but, then, this was an audience that delivered Allen a standing ovation merely for walking onto the stage. Woody himself was fine and reasonably amusing; he also clearly didn't say anything he hadn't said before. The moderator, Film Society of Lincoln Center official Wendy Keys, arrived with a list of relatively banal questions — Where do you get your ideas? Does writing a film bring you pleasure? — from which she never deviated. (She did provide an unintentional highlight when she exuberantly welcomed the crowd to the Film Society's "Big Woody Night," which, briefly, suggested a film much more interesting than the one we expected.)
The platitudinous Q&A was brief, however, and then we moved onto the film, which is set for limited release on Christmas Day. (One imagines a cross-promotional deal will be worked out with the Ollie's Chinese-restaurant chain and marketed through New York-area synagogues.) This brings us, then, to the actual news of this item: The latest Woody Allen movie is good.
Indeed, it's really good. Entertaining and suspenseful and beautifully shot. It is not, however, much of a Woody Allen movie. It's not because Match Point isn't a comedy; many of his late-'80s and early-'90s films weren't. (This new one, in fact, is reminiscent of Crimes and Misdemeanors.) It's a combination of other things. It's not set in New York, for one. For a Woody Allen non-comedy, it's unusually unconcerned with deep questions of love and life. Most of all, though, there's not the usual cast and not the usual characters. No Allen, no Alda, no Tony Roberts. No Mia, no Dian(n)es Keaton or Wiest. And not a Jew, at all. In the cast or on the screen.
Which all presents a dilemma: What does it mean that Woody Allen's best movie in years is, essentially, not a Woody Allen movie? Truth is, we have no idea. But we'll enjoy the film for now, and we'll debate that Talmudic question over egg rolls and lo mein on Christmas Night.
UPDATE: It would seem that Scarlett Johansson's mother is Jewish, which of course makes her Jewish, which means that there is a Jew in the cast. Who knew.