He's with the Band

Where he seems most comfortable is in hotel rooms, grousing about the paparazzi or the service. It's hilarious to watch Allen in Madrid complaining about the tastelessness of the hotel's Spanish omelet; it's like a prime joke in one of his movies. But after a while our disaffection sets in here too, because it's hard to connect with somebody who acts as if Milan's regal Principe di Savoia is basically a Motel 6. Wandering the swank suites in his-and-her matching white bathrobes, Woody and Soon-Yi come across like youth hostelers who won the lottery -- and don't care.

Soon-Yi has often been portrayed in the press as a bit dopey, but she's the heroine of Wild Man Blues -- the control freak's controller. She chides her husband for not going out of his way to compliment his band, and she's right. She turns out not to have seen Annie Hall. But she has seen Interiors, and she thinks it's "long and tedious." (She's right about that, too.) Soon-Yi doesn't seem to be in awe of Allen; she's more like one of those attentive girl Friday types that powerful men often attract. As it's presented to us, there's an element of play-acting in their marriage. They're like a comedy act. But even though he's old enough to be her grandfather, the generation gap seems insignificant. That's probably because you get the impression Allen in his sixties isn't far removed from Allen in his teens or twenties. He was born a kvetch, and he loves being pampered for his miseries. When he catches a cold at the end of the tour, he's swaddled in hotel bedding while Soon-Yi tends to him, a Jewish prince in clover.

After the tour Kopple springs a surprise on us: Allen pays a visit to his parents in Manhattan, and suddenly the film turns into a Freudian jest. His father at 96 has a full head of hair but not quite all his marbles; his mother, who looks a lot like Allen in drag, bemoans the fact that her son isn't married to a Jewish girl. Soon-Yi is present and says nothing, but Allen mutters into the camera, "This is truly the lunch from Hell." It's a marvelous sequence even though it seems staged for our benefit. Allen's mother has her son's crack comic timing. When you hear her sigh about how her boy studied tap dancing and singing but "never pursued" those interests, you feel like you're right at the root of Allen's neuroses. This family stuff is so stereotypically obvious that your first thought is, Of course Allen has needed therapy all these years. Your second thought is, He'll never get out of therapy.

Wild Man Blues.
Directed by Barbara Kopple. Starring Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn.

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