Woody Allen’s clumsy, preachy homage to secular humanism, written in the 1970’s for Zero Mostel, is peopled by not-ready-for-the-B-list players, and looks as if it was shot on a 6 figure budget in less than a week. Boris Yelnikoff (Larry David) is a misanthropic genius (we are told his IQ is 200) but he is nothing more than an arrogant, self-satisfied, closed-minded bigot, posturing that he knows it all, and casting aspersions at people who actually have values.
Boris is an old man who takes in a runaway teenager, Melody St. Ann Celestine (Evan Rachel Wood), who is over-the-top naïve. Eventually, they marry. Then, Melody’s mother, Marietta (Patricia Clarkson), finds her. Marietta develops an instant dislike of Boris, her daughter’s husband, so she sets her daughter up with Randy Lee James (Henry Cavill) with the idea that he will take her away from Boris, which he does. Marietta then shacks up with both of Boris’s friends, Joe (Michael McKean) and Leo Brockman (Conleth Hill), finally forming a ménage à trois, which is presented to the audience as something that everyone who isn’t terminally uptight should find acceptable. This isn’t implied. There are multiple scenes of the three of them in bed together. All of this is told to the audience by Boris, à la “Annie Hall” (1977). The people with values are represented by John (Ed Begley, Jr.), a devout, Bible-spouting caricature who turns out to be a latent homosexual hypocrite.
This film is a monument to nihilism. That there is no God is made abundantly clear by Melody; there is no value in marital fidelity; there is no value in monogamy. In short, there is nothing. If it feels good, do it. Woody’s characters disparage people who hold traditional values, and treat them with bitter condescension.
I’d like to believe that Woody was being satirical. But Woody actually believes this as his philosophy of life, proclaiming, “I wrote the script, so of course it is the way I see things… whatever makes you happy, that is how life should be.” Unfortunately, Woody might have miscalculated. He might be blind to the fact that many will find the film distasteful, more an indictment of secular humanism than an argument in favor of it. Worse, Woody commits the cardinal sin (well, I guess in his world nothing is sinful); it’s not funny.
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