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MIGHTY APHRODITE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Woody Allen, Helena Bonham Carter, Mira Sorvino, F. Murray Abraham
Director:  Woody Allen
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Miramax
Features:  None
Length:  95 Minutes
Release Date:  May 18, 1999

Film ***

Woody Allen is one of cinema's most enduring and important filmmakers, but every so often, he seems to make a movie not to reflect, not to comment, not to say anything, but just for fun.  Manhattan Murder Mystery is one. Mighty Aphrodite is another.  It won't stand alongside Annie Hall or Crimes and Misdemeanors as one of his greatest achievements, but still, mediocre Woody Allen is better than most other directors' best.

So how does the Woodman decide that a New York couple who adopts a boy and has a few problems along the way compares with ancient Greek theatre?  Doesn't matter.  What matters is that it's comical to do so, and he goes all out, including segments filmed in an old outdoor auditorium complete with a chanting Greek chorus in full costumes and masks led by F. Murray Abraham.  A classical touch, except for the occasional moment, such as when Abraham comments that Oedipus Rex was the point in history when psychoanalysis began, or when they sing and dance in doo-wop fashion.

The couple, Lenny and Amanda (Allen and Carter) adopt a baby, and over the first few years of the child's life, he seems perfect.  He's sweet, handsome, and unusually bright. Naturally, only one of Woody Allen's neurotic characters could find something to worry about.  He becomes obsessed with finding the child's natural mother.

When he finally meets her, Linda (Sorvino) turns out to be the antithesis of everything he imagined.  He figured on an intelligent and cultured sophisticate.  What he got was a not-too-bright prostitute and part time porn film star.

Thinking he somehow owes his son a better birth mother, he begins to try and improve the quality of her life.  It's not so easy.  When he convinces her to give up prostitution, he ends up in an uneasy confrontation with her pimp (a hilarious scene).  He even tries to arrange a date for her with an equally inept young boxer who dreams of being an onion farmer (an even funnier scene).

All of this takes place with the chorus singing and commenting along the way, and even ending with a real 'deus ex machina' for a nice touch.  (In Greek theatre, a difficult dramatic situation was often resolved cheaply by lowering a 'god on a machine' into the set to fix everything).  And then the play ends on an amusingly ironic note.

Is there a point to all of it?  Nothing but laughs, and an appreciation for the funny little twists and turns fate can offer to make life so interesting.  It's a good cast, too, particularly the funny and beautiful Mira Sorvino in her Oscar winning role.  Also look for a very brief cameo by Jack Warden near the end as a blind seer (you read that right).  It's a scream.

Disc Quality ***1/2

As normal from the Disney companies, there is no anamorphic transfer on this disc, but it's one of their better looking ones nevertheless.  Colors are always bright and natural, images are sharp and clear, and no evidence of compression or grain.  In one early dinner sequence, the clarity is so good you can read the label on a wine bottle on the table.  The mono soundtrack is adequate, but per the norm for a dialogue-driven Woody Allen film, not necessarily remarkable. 

Features (zero stars)

Nothing.

Summary:

There's nothing wrong with a movie that has nothing more to offer than a desire to make you laugh, if it succeeds in doing so. Mighty Aphrodite does succeed. It's a charming and simple comedy, well acted and smartly written, from one of America's premier funny men.