The news that The Phoenix Picturehouse is putting on a Woody Allen season inspired me to watch the trailer for his upcoming To Rome With Love. This turned out to be a thoroughly depressing experience. Normally a bad trailer is hardly cause for concern; The Expendables 2 looks like nothing more than a crime against script writing, and I couldn’t care less. Indeed To Rome doesn’t even look disastrous, just painfully mediocre. The real problem with the trailer was that it simply seemed to confirm a painful truth: Woody Allen will never write anything great again.
In the two-minute glimpse of Allen’s latest effort, we were treated to a selection of Hollywood’s brightest stars wandering round a beautiful European city and doing their best with a string of average one liners. Monica, Ellen Page’s nymphomaniac twenty-something, seems likely to be as fleshed out a character as Diane Keaton’s little finger in Annie Hall. The problems start with the opening shots; the camera pans round a selection of famous buildings as a cringe worthy traffic cop tells us “in Roma, all is a story”. The sun is always shining, the streets are clean and the Americans are out in force.
Those who’ve seen Manhattan, Allen’s take on his native city, will have noticed an absence of panning shots over tourist spots like the Empire State building or the Statue of Liberty. That’s because Woody Allen actually knows something about New York. Manhattan gave an insight into the lives of New Yorkers; From Rome looks about as culturally insightful as a postcard.
But the reason this impending mediocrity is such a travesty is that Allen’s early work is so great. For a period between Annie Hall in 1977 and Bullets over Broadway in 1994, everything he wrote was gold. Midnight in Paris last year was a good film, but it is almost offensive to place it alongside classics like Manhattan or Hannah and Her Sisters. Compared to most Hollywood fare, it was largely well written and charming. But it still wasn’t that funny, only had one good character and lazily stereotyped both Paris and its residents. Any Allen devotee mourns the passing of his gift at around the time of Mighty Aphrodite, either that or they’re in serious denial.
If you too are appalled by Allen’s most recent feature length tourism advert, then I urge you to head to the Phoenix in 4th week for the Woody Allen season. Three of the six films showing are bona fide masterpieces, Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters and Manhattan; the rest are just very good. If anyone is still in doubt as to whether Woody Allen has ‘lost it’, then watching one of those three beside the execrable Scoop should convince you once and for all.