Saturday, January 13, 2007

Movie Review: Mighty Aphrodite 3 ½ Stars

Regardless of how creepy each successive film gets in light of Woody Allen’s personal life. No matter that each character he portrays is merely a thinly-veiled manifestation of Allen’s real-life persona. Heedless of the fact that not only is Allen playing Allen, the other actors are playing characters who are themselves thinly-veiled manifestations of Allen’s real-life persona, there’s something about Woody Allen’s films -- even the flawed ones -- that is absolutely refreshing.

In addition to the themes of infidelity, graphic descriptions of sex and -- especially -- May-December romances, lately Woody has been fixated on prostitutes-with-a-heart-of-gold. In Mighty Aphrodite, Linda Ash (Mira Sorvina in an Oscar-winning role) is that prostitute and also the mother of sportswriter Lenny Weinrib’s (Woody Allen) adopted child, Max. Lenny and his wife Amanda (Helena Bonham Carter) are growing apart as she becomes deeply entrenched in courting investors for her art gallery. As the chasm between them widens, Lenny becomes more and more curious about the identity of his brilliant child’s mother. He breaks into the adoption agency’s files and tracks her down.

To his shock, she is not the genetic stuff Lenny had expected. She is, in fact, a squeaky-voiced dim bulb not unlike the moll in Bullets Over Broadway. And she’s a $200-a-trick hooker and sometime porn actress who goes by the name of Judy Cum in films like The Enchanted Pussy. Putting his horrified kvetching aside, Lenny befriends Linda -- in a Higgins/Doolittle sort of way -- and sets about playing God, trying to remold Linda in his image.

While this all plays out, a Greek Chorus (F. Murray Abraham, Olympia Dukakis and David Ogden Stiers amongst others) provides running commentary that begins as pretty serious, if not pompous, doomsaying but quickly and hilariously degenerates into Aristophanean versions of Broadway production numbers and ridiculous lines like "Oh cursed fate! Some thoughts are better left unthunk!"

What the story lacks in originality, it more than compensates for with enough jokes to make you forget you’re watching a postmodern Pygmalion. The Greek Chorus framing device hilariously points out that our lives unravel much like the twist and turns of Greek tragedy, complete with deus ex machina. And Allen’s insistence at both dramatizing and satirizing the events of his real life, provide a fascinating Portrait of the Artist as Dirty Old Man.

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