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Hollywood Ending

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Hollywood Ending

Starring: Woody Allen, Debra Messing
Director: Woody Allen
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 114 Minutes
Release Date: May 2002
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, Treat Williams, George Hamilton, Tea Leoni, Mark Rydell

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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

Anyone who has been on the psychotherapist's couch for years, even weeks, can tell you exactly what problems he faces. He can talk about these issues until he's blue in the face, but alas, as any decent shrink will tell you, knowing intellectually that you have a problem is not the same as working it out emotionally. In that respect, no one can say that Woody Allen is in denial about his. One of the genius directors of the past thirty-seven years, the sixty-six year old Mr. Allen never hid the fact to the public that he has been undergoing therapy forever. He realizes that he's a hypochondriac (in one self-reflective film he opens an attache case loaded to the brim with pills), but knowing in your head that the illness has no physical causality is not the same as exuding a feeling of health and well-being. His success as a filmmaker, writer and actor has apparently not diminished his neuroses or cured his anhedonia, but to his eternal credit he makes art out of misery, thereby delighting the rest of us, if not himself. In "Hollywood Ending" Woody may not be at his best (that spot is reserved for "Annie Hall,") but whereas an ordinary person talking about his operation may bore the hell out of his circle of pals, Woody has a way of making his own dilemmas delightful to those discriminating fans who adore even flops like "Interiors" and "Shadows and Fog."

Neurotic he may be but at least he's learned to do what he does best and that's to make people laugh. So it's goodbye Kafka, hello "Hollywood Ending," a delightful movie with expert comic timing which, despite a few lines that fall flat or are even embarrassing (as when he calls his ring-pierced son by the same that the young man prefers), is a comic gem. While I was not amused by a comment from a young man in the story, "Critics are the lowest form of the culture," the movie is peppered by such bon mots as "Sex is better than talking. Just ask anyone here. Talking is what you have to suffer through to get to the sex." Amen.

Woody Allen performs in the role of Val Waxman, who, like Mr. Allen himself, has passed the high point of his career, but unlike the director needs to succeed in making a new movie or his career is over. Val is still very much in love with his ex-wife, Ellie (played by the stunning Tea Leoni, who has the bearing of Hillary Clinton but is much better looking), but Ellie, fed up dealing with her husband's hypochondria and adolescent needs has abandoned him to become engaged to the slick and handsome Hal (Treat Williams). Convincing Hal, the head of a studio, that he should bankroll his new work, "The City That Never Sleeps" with Val as director, she meets considerable opposition from the studio heads but ultimately, Hal agrees that Val's the best man for this particular job.

Serious trouble arises when Val develops a psychosomatic condition, hysterical blindness. Unable to see even from the first day of the shoot, Val enlists the aid of his principal confidant, his agent Al (Mark Rydell), determined to hide his condition lest he be fired on the spot, his entire life's career down the tubes. Much of the laughter from this story, yet another film about the making of a film, comes from Val's Fellini-esque attempts to fool everyone into thinking that his eyesight is a sound as his vision.

Woody Allen has assembled a terrific cast in small roles, particularly Peter Gerety as the psychiatrist who discovers the cause of the blindness; Mark Rydell, who could pass for Mel Brooks, as his trusted and loyal agent; and Mark Webber as Val's bandleader son Tony. The part of Lori, who plays Val's bimbo girlfriend in the relationship only to get a part in the movie is taken reasonably well by Debra Messing but Marisa Tomei would have been the top choice hands down.

As further indication that art follows life, Val insists that a foreigner be selected as photographer for the movie "The City That Never Sleeps," and lo, German cinematographer Wedigo von Schultzendorff has done a smashing job with "Hollywood Ending," making New York look as magnificent as Tea Leoni, particularly in a scene of the city as dusk as the sun sinks below the great Manhattan skyline. "Hollywood Ending" is an ode to New York, Woody Allen's favorite city, just the film that could revive the tourist industry here in the Big Apple. Given the title of Mr. Allen's movie, who do you think winds up honeymooning with Ellie: her ex-husband Val or her handsome and rich studio chief fiance Hal?

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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