The impossibility of reviewing a Woody Allen film: Eli Glasner
Difficult to watch, but 2 films from problematic directors offer new insights
So there I was, about to head into the screening of director Woody Allen's latest film Wonder Wheel when the email alerts started pinging. This time it was Matt Lauer. The popular host of NBC's Today show had been fired after revelations of multiple claims of sexual harassment.
In the hours that followed, details emerged — allegations of Lauer using a button to lock his office door from the inside before assaulting a colleague. But before I had time to process, the lights dimmed and it was time to watch Allen's latest bauble.
Welcome to reviewing films in the post-Weinstein era.
There was a time when savouring the latest instalment from Woody Allen was less complicated. The standup-comedian-turned-auteur had a distinct voice. He was ambitious and prolific. But as Allen's power as a director waned, stories about him began to emerge.
Beyond the unseemliness of Allen wooing and then marrying Soon-Yi, the adoptive daughter of his former romantic partner Mia Farrow, there's the charge levelled by Allen's adopted daughter Dylan Farrow that he molested her at the age of seven.
Allen denies it, but the accusations irrevocably change the way we perceive his stories.
Wonder Wheel's story revolves around Kate Winslet, playing a woman trapped in a loveless marriage to a man played by Jim Belushi. Her husband perks up when his long lost daughter returns. Juno Temple plays the daughter, all blond curls and batting eyelashes, which leads the wife to complain about her husband's "unnatural attachment."
At another point, Winslet says: "When it comes to love, we often turn out the be our own worst enemy."
The same could be said for Allen, who described Weinstein as a "sad, sick man" while worrying about "a witch hunt atmosphere."
Wonder Wheel is not good film. Belushi is wildly out of his depth and, at best, the storyline rises to the level of a second-rate Neil Simon play.
To watch Wonder Wheel as the voices speaking out about sexual harassment grow louder is to come to terms with all sides of Allen as an artist. A nebbish philosopher, sure. But also an older man infatuated with youth and beauty in story after story.
Films of Allen and C.K. have common themes
This same mixture of power and privilege, with a heady side of self-loathing, can be found in the latest film of Allen admirer Louis C.K.
I Love You Daddy is a black and white comedy starring Chloe Grace Moretz and Louis C.K. that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. After a string of successful TV shows, the comedian wrote, shot and directed the project in secret.
But when the New York Times reported on allegations from a series of women about the comedian masturbating in front of them, the distributor quickly dropped the film.
C.K. released a statement apologizing for his actions, but without a distributor or a future release date, I Love You Daddy will likely never be seen.
Unless you happen to be a film critic.
A few weeks ago, in the daily avalanche of awards-season DVDs, a copy of I Love You Daddy arrived.
The film revolves around C.K.'s character Glen, a successful showrunner, and his 17-year-old daughter China. At a party, they meet an older filmmaker named Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich) — an erudite director whom Glen admires. But stories of Leslie's penchant for young girls surround him. Although young China jokes about Leslie being a child molester, the two begin a relationship of sorts.
When C.K. is not mansplaining feminism to his daughter, the film is filled with moments where the sour bile of the speculation around his behaviour leaks onto the screen.
At one point, his character says to his exasperated production partner, "I'm sorry women. Please, on behalf of all women, please let you all know, that I'm very f--king sorry."
Then there's the moment where the showrunner's favourite actor (played by Charlie Day) mimes masturbating in the presence of Glen and his production partner, played by Edie Falco.
As Day grunts and giggles his way to climax, Falco remains stone-faced. What was the director's intent? Was C.K. amused by the awkwardness of the moment? Or was the total lack of reaction his way of normalizing the behaviour?
Near the end of the film, one of China's friends consoles Glen by saying "Everyone's a pervert." It's meant to make Glen feel better about the relationship between Leslie and China, but it plays into a large theme, pushing back against outsiders gossiping about what's right and wrong.
In the end, I Love You Daddy is an indulgent collection of cinematic pastiches pasted around what appears as proactive apology. It's filled with both fascinating and uncomfortable moments most will never see, which strikes me as missed opportunity.
As the industry struggles with how to treat the art created by these men, some are calling for boycotts. I've done enough interviews to measure the distance between the image and reality. To erase all the art created by the accused in some kind of Stalinesque purge is too easy. What lessons will we have learned when the next C.K. tries to worm his way into our hearts?
Art is not binary. It's bigger and grander than good and evil. From the unflinching gaze of Kevin Spacey to the avuncular arrogance of Woody Allen, the best moments of this medium speak to a greater truth about who we are. It can be difficult to watch, but that doesn't necessarily mean we should look away.
- An earlier version of this story incorrectly noted Rachel Weisz appears in Wonder Wheel. In fact, the film features Kate Winslet.Dec 07, 2017 8:23 AM ET
- An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Allen's wife, Soon-Yi, as his adoptive daughter. In fact, she is the adoptive daughter of his former romantic partner, Mia Farrow.Dec 07, 2017 8:27 AM ET