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HOLLYWOOD ENDING

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Woody Allen, George Hamilton, Tea Leoni, Debra Messing, Mark Rydell, Tiffani Thiessen, Treat Williams
Director:  Woody Allen
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Dreamworks
Features:  Theatrical Trailer, Talent Files, Production Notes
Length:  112 Minutes
Release Date:  September 17, 2002

“Look, I love Val.  I love him.  But with all due respect, he’s a raving, incompetent psychotic.”

“He is NOT incompetent!”

Film ***1/2

Some are surprised when I say that after the passing of Stanley Kubrick, I consider Woody Allen to be America’s greatest filmmaker.  The Woodman has a penchant for both comedy and drama, creating wonderful characters that get inside our hearts and minds.  Sometimes he stretches the bounds of comedy, proving that just because material is funny, it doesn’t mean it can’t be cinematic.  Other times, he makes more lighthearted films that aren’t groundbreaking…simply funny and entertaining.

Hollywood Ending is one of the latter, and also one of his best and funniest offerings of the last several years.  I think most people, whether or not fans of Allen, will find this a hysterical picture.  But fans will enjoy it even more, because part of the fun of the movie is his willingness to kid himself, or at least his public persona.

Allen plays Val Waxman, a once acclaimed director and double Oscar winner whose neuroses and attention to artistic detail has brought him a string of bad luck.  He’s hit bottom so badly that he’s filming a deodorant commercial in Canada when a dream project, and a chance at critical and box office redemption, comes to him.

The project?  A chance to make a film in and about New York.  The drawback?  It’s being offered to him by his ex-wife, Ellie (Leoni), and her studio boss, Hal (Williams), who also happens to be the man she dumped Val for!  The ground between Val and Hal is shaky at best, with poor Ellie having to serve as constant mediator for them!

“Part of me wants it so badly,” Val intones.  The other part?  “Also wants it.  That’s the problem.”  The first meeting doesn’t go as well as it could, with Val’s request for filming in black and white shot down.  “New York is a black and white town,” he pleads…and Woody should know; he made probably the quintessential black and white New York film himself with Manhattan.  He IS conceded a foreign cameraman; again, a typical Woody Allen trait:  he’s worked with some of the best cameramen outside of the United States in his career.

Nobody really wants or trusts Val, but he gets the job because of Ellie’s insistence that he’s the perfect director for the film.  It’s clear with their first post-hiring get-together, though, that there are issues to be resolved.  In a funny bar scene, Val can’t keep from referring to their break-up while discussing the production!

Good stuff so far, but the coup de grace is still to come.  Wrecked by nerves and neuroses as the first day of shooting approaches, Val goes psychosomatically blind!  But at the insistence of his agent, Al (Rydell), he realizes if he backs out because of this mentally triggered condition, he’ll never get another shot at professional redemption.  So the trick becomes…how do you direct a film you can’t see, and how do you keep your entire cast and crew from learning the truth, particularly Ellie, whose neck is on the line just as much as Val’s?

Woody Allen is a writer who never ceases to make me laugh, and Hollywood Ending should be considered one of his funniest screenplays.  By using a simple concept of a blind film director, he manages to inject his story with pratfalls, satire, situational humor, and obvious personal comments about the state of the Hollywood system.  The ending, which I will not reveal, is a helluva funny payoff for any audience member, but devoted fans of the Woodman will also appreciate one of his best inside jokes ever offered!

As with any Allen film, his cast is first rate.  Tea Leoni, as Ellie, has arguably never been better.  Debra Messing turns in another memorably airheaded performance as Val’s flaky girlfriend, Lori.  Tiffani Thiessen adds electrifying sex appeal with only a few moments of screen time, and Mark Rydell, a noted director in his own right, is funny and perfect as Val’s longsuffering agent.

Hollywood Ending won’t be remembered for breaking ground the way Allen did with Annie Hall or Manhattan, or for being as stylistic as Everyone Says I Love You or Shadows and Fog, but it should be remembered as a modern comic gem, and one of the Woodman’s funniest scripts, which is saying quite a lot.

Video ****

Dreamworks never seems to disappoint with their anamorphic transfers, and Hollywood Ending is a beautiful looking disc with a distinct visual style.  First time Allen cinematographer Wedigo von Schultzendorff (a foreign cameraman!) creates golden toned imagery that gives the movie a classic Hollywood feel despite the modern setting.  The overall effect is similar to that of Allen’s previous effort, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (also on DVD from Dreamworks), but is even prettier here.  Colors are vibrant and rich, with heightened tones, and images are crisply rendered from start to finish.  An absolute viewing pleasure.

Audio ***

As with all Woody Allen films, the soundtrack is mono, but this is still a fairly lively offering, made better by his choice of classic songs to accompany the picture.  Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, and dynamic range is fairly good as well.

Features *1/2

Since Woody never looks at his films again once completed, his DVDs don’t get a lot of extras.  Included here is the original trailer, production notes, and talent files divided into cast and crew.

Summary:

Hollywood Ending is simply one of America’s premiere funnymen doing what he does best:  being funny.  This is a witty, satirical chuckle fest that should please most audiences, but fans of Woody Allen even more so.