By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: She reanalyzes her life.
Marion (Gena Rowlands) is a college professor over 50, whose taken a leave of absence in order to write a book. Due to the construction at her place she sublets another apartment in order to have it quiet for her writing, but finds that it’s next to a psychiatrist’s office and through the vent can hear everything that the patients talk about. She becomes especially intrigued with a young pregnant woman named Hope (Mia Farrow) who talks about how empty her life is and this touches a cord with Marion, who despite being much older, feels the same way about her own life. This then forces her to reanalyze how she’s treated her family and friends through the years and causing her to face some harsh realities about herself.
While writer/director Woody Allen has the reputation of a being an intellectual as well as a perfectionist, the film’s opening shot had to be rewritten several times before he was happy with it, it’s surprising how dumb he is with basic physics. The idea that Marion could put a couple of couch cushions over the vent and this would be enough to blot out all of the noise coming from the neighboring apartment just doesn’t ring true. Sure it might muffle the voices a bit, but not a complete block of sound to where she’d hear no noise at all and having the vent be in another room in the apartment, which would’ve allowed her the convenience of simply closing that room’s door in order to cut-off the noise, would’ve worked better.
I was also surprised how later on in the film, Marion tells the psychiatrist about the ‘acoustical irregularities’ that allows her to hear everything that’s said in his office and the Dr. admits to being aware of this, but says he’ll ‘correct it’. What kind of psychiatrist though would knowingly allow his patient’s most personal thoughts to get out for others to hear? This made me think the plot would’ve worked better as one of Allen’s comedies where a writer puts the stories overheard from the patients into their book and when it becomes a best-seller, both the author and Dr. get sued and tormented by the angry patients sending them to a psychiatrists of their own.
Like with all of Allen’s dramas the cast of characters are entirely made-up of upper middle-class intellectuals, which gives the film an elitist, snobby vibe by implying that these types of people are the only ones sophisticated enough to have complex problems that people in the lower socio-economic classes supposedly don’t. They seem too much like caricatures as well who have the exact same interests (writing, the arts, and going to operas) and it would’ve been nice had there been one working class person who wasn’t into all of these things thrown into the mix simply to give it a better balance.
The fact that just about all of the characters are having affairs, many times with each other, makes it too soap opera-like. The scene where Gena bumps into Sandy Dennis and her husband and the three go to a pub for drinks gets particularly over-the-top when Dennis bluntly accuses her husband of paying too much attention to Gena. In most cases if a wife has a problem with her husband’s behavior she’ll keep it to herself and then bring it up later when the two are alone and not out in public for everyone to hear especially to a friend that she hasn’t seen in awhile and is only an acquaintance.
I didn’t like Marion as she’s too cold and while I realize this was intentional she’s not the type of person that the viewer can warm-up to, or care that much about. Mia Farrow’s character is far more appealing and I wanted more of her and was shocked how little screen time she ultimately gets. The part wasn’t even meant for her as she was set to play Marion before she got pregnant and then when Dianne Weist, who was originally cast as Hope, had to leave the production due to illness and her replacement, Jane Alexander, didn’t approach the character the way Woody wanted, so it was eventually given to Farrow, who does quite well despite the fact that she was already in her 40’s at the time even though the person she was playing was supposed to be in their 20’s.
The film does end on a strong note, but it does take awhile before it gets there and comes-off as clunky and unintentionally funny at other points. The scenes with John Houseman, who plays Marion’s father, are particularly hammy as he sits at the dinner table conveying his lines like he still thinks he’s Professor Kingfish speaking to an auditorium full of students. However, David Ogden Stiers impression of Houseman (he plays a younger version of him during a flashback scene) is spot-on and the movie is almost worth catching just for that.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: October 14, 1988
Runtime: 1 Hour 21 Minutes
Director: Woody Allen
Studio: Orion Pictures
Available: DVD, Amazon Video, Blu-ray (Region 0), YouTube