Sunday, January 14, 2007

Movie Review: Wild Man Blues 4 Stars

An oddly intrusive film documenting Woody Allen’s 1995 tour of Europe with his jazz band, Wild Man Blues is neither a concert film nor a portrait of Allen as a musician. Intriguingly enough, these elements merely serve as a backdrop for a far more interesting profile of Allen and his relationship to Soon Yi Previn, his sister, his co-workers and his fans.

Woody Allen, of course, plays himself, and perhaps that’s the most unsettling thing about this film: you get the sense that Allen is playing himself. He has become the role of the nebbishy intellectual he normally portrays in his films. Through surprisingly candid scenes, Allen is revealed to be a claustrophobic, neurotic artist, completely overcome by depression and hypochondria. And much to his credit, Allen also has the uncanny ability to spontaneously generate one-liners that rival the best lines from his movies.

Soon Yi Previn, on the other hand, comes across as a head strong young woman who challenges Allen not to give in to his self-destructive psychological quirks. Their relationship is at the heart of the film, and we discover that, in spite of the highly-publicized age difference and the peculiar circumstances of their affair, Allen and Previn are completely comfortable with each other. As a matter of fact, Previn seems more parental toward Allen than he does toward her. In several scenes, Allen displays discomfort with his own celebrity. Previn politely but firmly suggests that he give the audience what they want, whether that is more accessible jazz standards, an interview, or an acknowledgment

While acclaimed documentarian Barbara Kopple frames the story around the tour, the spirited musical performances, unfortunately, are not given the attention they deserve. However, Kopple more than makes up for it by including several wonderfully insightful, funny scenes including a priceless homecoming scene with Allen’s ninety-five-year-old parents that further illuminate this fascinating character.

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