Alice (1990) Woody Allen
Production Budget: $12 million
Gross: $7 million
I could only find domestic numbers for the gross so there is a possibility that overseas numbers pushed it over the top.
Alice (Mia Farrow) is an upper class housewife who’s happiness is called into question when she falls for sax player Joe (Joe Mantegna). Alice goes to a chinese herbalist for health issues who gives her magical herbs which do anything from making her invisible to letting her speak to dead ex-boyfriends. These help her sort out the troubles Alice has with her love life.
I wanted to like Alice a lot more. Woody Allen can be a lot of fun when he goes into fantasy territory with movies like Zelig, Midnight in Paris, and even Purple Rose of Cairo. So I was expecting a very cute but funny fantasy movie that just might have been overlooked by most people. By the end though, while I was not hating this movie, to me this was one of his weakest efforts.
I know I’m going to be arguing very subjective things like funny and not funny but to me the biggest problem was this movie wasn’t funny. I like when Allen does these kinds of movies because with all these fantastical elements he can put them in extreme situations which heighten the comedy. It was great in Oedipus Wrecks when Allen’s character not only had mother issues, but when it became a giant floating head over New York City. It was funny when Gil in Midnight in Paris met his literary heroes like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemmingway and pitched his book to them. In Alice, while there are fantastical elements with the different herbs, none of them are really exploited to their fullest potential. One of the herbs makes Alice invisible which allows her to spy on Joe to see if he is a player. While that was a practical move on Alice’s part, it just doesn’t allow for that much hilarity. Another herb bring back a former lover who died (played by Alec Baldwin). Again, while it serves a purpose in that he gives an honest appraisal of Alice and her lovers, it isn’t used to its potential for comedy. It would be better if he could embarass her more with his dialog or somehow interact with Alice’s men in her life but he doesn’t. It’s scene after scene after scene after scene of an interesting set up along with a disappointing follow through. Speaking of Allen having an off day with the humor a shining example is Dr. Yang. Other people give Allen a pass but if I have to complain about Skids and Mudflaps being racist, then I might as well rage against Woody for this too. Yang is an herbalist who speaks in “funny“ broken Engrish who runs an opium den and has mocking stereotypical Chinese music playing whenever he shows up. He is one pair of buck teeth away from downright offensive. I won’t harp on it too much but, as I mentioned earlier, it is a shining example of Allen having a major off day with his humor.
I also have to admit Alice as a character is hard to get behind. It is hard to get invested over a beautiful rich woman who is wondering if she should sleep with Joe Mantegna. Near the end of the movie they try to turn this into an Another Woman search for self identity but by the 90 minute mark it is a little late for that. Mia Farrow also wasn’t given a very good role to play either. Alice talks a mile a minute and complains non-stop. It feels like a very Woody Allen type role, but where Allen can make that character ultimately lovable, Farrow comes off as annoying. The dialog isn’t witty enough to support Farrow and fails to win her over with the crowd.
This movie was a misfire for me: the humor misfired, the dialog was bland, the characters weren’t up to par with other Allen films, and it ultimately wasn’t interesting. While I didn’t hate this movie and it is far from the worst Woody Allen movie, I will have no interest in revisiting this movie in the future.