(released May 2002)
Directed by Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Tea Leoni, Debra Messing,
Reviewed by H. W. Moss
Woody Allen returns to the straightforward contemporary comedy format in "Hollywood Ending," his take on how a bumbling two time Oscar winning director attempts to make a comeback. How bumbling Val Waxman (Allen) is a neurotic who goes psychosomatically blind the day the shoot begins and remains that way until the end.
This makes for a funny setup for a number of scenarios, from pratfalls to talking to walls, all of which are delivered in Allen's famously low-key anxiety ridden style. If you enjoyed older Allen masterpieces such as, "Take the Money and Run" (1969) or "The Purple Rose of Cairo" (1985), compared to, say, his more cerebral and less plot oriented movies such as "Love and Death" (1975) or the nostalgic "Radio Days" (1987), you will undoubtedly like "Hollywood Ending."
Ex-wife Ellie (Tea Leoni) dumped Waxman for Hal (Treat Williams), a Hollywood studio head who has a script he wishes to produce, however he is in search of a director. Ellie convinces Hal that Waxman is the only one for the job. Hal agrees but insists a close eye be kept on the project which means Ellie has to go to New York. Waxman has tumbled down the ranks and is now making television commercials so this could be his big opportunity. He gets the job and, inexplicably, hires a Chinese cinematographer who speaks no English. A local student translator (Barney Cheung) is hired and when Waxman goes blind, the translator becomes a co-conspirator in keeping Waxman's condition secret.
There is a literary touchstone for Waxman's blindness. The English poet John Milton went totally blind in 1652. There is the theory it was psychosomatic. Milton began writing "Paradise Lost" in 1658 and finished it in 1665. Totally blind. Hey, Beethoven went deaf, a fact not overlooked in "Hollywood Ending."
Allen gets his digs at Hollywood in many ways. At one point, Hal has to end his telephone call with Ellie because, he says, he has to have another skin cancer removed. The Chinese director threatens to go over budget at every juncture and wants, at one point, to build a life size replica of the Empire State building. Sex with the director is de rigueur for the leading lady. Unfortunately, he is quite literally blind to her advances.
Clever, but not over the top, this is Allen entertaining us with his nutty adventures.
Fitting action to its name, "Ending" was the closing night film at the 45th annual San Francisco Film Festival in 2002, and the opening night film at Cannes.
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