Tuesday, August 09, 2011

#175: Hollywood Ending

It is no secret that a lot of Woody's scripts are derived from personal experiences and apart from his most preferred topic of relationships, I would suspect his next comfort zone is around performing arts and films. One sees that comfort mould itself beautifully from the experiences as a stand-up comic into a movie such as Broadway Danny Rose and in other cases not so beautifully in a movie like Celebrity. Time and again, we've seen him use the backdrop of performing arts and movies to weave his stories in and these include names like Sweet and Lowdown, Bullets over Broadway and Stardust Memories. Hollywood Ending made in 2002 premiered at Cannes and is yet another attempt on his part in this sub-genre of his movies.

It has as it's protagonist Val Vaxman (Woody Allen), a double Oscar-winning director who has now fallen on troubled times. His ever-smiling optimistic manager Al (Mark Rydell) is pulling out all stops to get him a mainstream film project and yet the only work that's falling in Val's lap are diaper commercials. It is during this phase when out of the blue, Val's ex-wife Ellie (Tea Leoni) suggests Val's name for a project at Galaxie Studios that she thinks only Val can do justice to. The studio head Yeager (Treat Williams) is Ellie's fiance and knows Val's eccentricities too well to be confident about handing over the directorial reins. Ellie's conviction in Val's mercurial capabilities however sees Yeager giving in to his wife but not before a meeting where Yeager does see the merit of having Val as the director.

At this point Val is excited about the subject and whole-heartedly accepts the project except that he has got his conscience pricking him about working with his ex-wife who dumped him and working for the man who took away Ellie. Things take a turn for the worse when Val realizes he's become blind and his manager will not have him confess this to Ellie. In a set of a hilarious gags, Woody Allen's writing takes us through a blind Val Vaxman working on the sets of his movie with the help of a Chinese student. There's too much that goes wrong for Val and it is hard not to feel for him. In his typically neurotic manner, Woody Allen essays Val Vaxman with supreme ease for this is exactly the sort of role Woody can sleep walk through. Tea Leoni as Ellie is sweet, charming, level-headed and an apt foil to Val's idiosyncrasies and during their exchanges you also see exactly where both of them went wrong in their marriage. Treat Williams and Mark Rydell are strong pillars as far as the supporting cast is concerned. The best of the movie though is a five minute sequence where a blind Val Vaxman meets Yeager in his suite to convince him that all is well with the film. This is a side-splitting sequence with all the funny elements that we have come to love Woody Allen for.

If anything, Hollywood Ending could've been a bit shorter like Woody's standard breezy 90 minute cinematic fare. Apart from that everything else seemed right - beginning from the casting, to the performances to a storyline that is bound to leave you smiling at the end of it. Surprisingly, it didn't find too many takers for itself at the box-office. If you ask me, and again this is not something that will find too many takers, I would happily place it in a 'Best of Woody Allen' series.

Rating: 7.1/10

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