What to Watch Instead of Woody Allen
If you’re struggling with an attachment to someone you now find loathsome, rest assured: his stories aren’t unique
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I grew up a Jewish girl in Jersey with an eye on New York City. As soon as I graduated high school, I made my move. In many ways, I was primed to love it. There were these films I would watch as an adolescent about a city that had all the virtues I was hell bent on acquiring: toughness and intelligence and the ability to take anything. I’m still unlearning the lessons I took for truth from these films, like that ethical quandaries can’t be seen clearly through so much grey, or that the heart is entitled to want what it wants, or that glittering conversation is a fine substitute for care, or that I was very mature for my age and only a certain type of man would understand me. I never identified with their director-protagonist, but I did like the world he created for me, or groomed me for.
And yet, as with so many of my lousy exes, I did not find it difficult to stop loving these films once I found out their creator was an accused child molester, because I finally saw how they manipulative they were in getting me to shrug off questionable behavior as being merely complicated. If you still need to work through your attachment to Allen’s oeuvre, here is critic A.O. Scott’s reevaluation. But if any shame still lingers that you were ever susceptible to the charm of these movies, I promise that whatever you once saw in them, as with all our lousy exes, can be found elsewhere. And better.
Anything you need from Allen’s most famous films, you can get from When Harry Met Sally, or Nora Ephron’s work in general: dialogue that still surprises you after 50 rewatches, references to Bogart, women in menswear, New York not as a character but as the condition of possibility for love itself, and Jewish delis.
A less obvious choice: Kissing Jessica Stein, because highly strung women can talk to each other while walking around New York City. They can also fuck.
Orson Welles once remarked that he loathed the director in question because of his combination of “arrogance and timidity.” I imagine James Gandolfini would have been more his type of man. Enough Said is an antidote to the particularly disingenuous form of masculinity that passes as nebbish when it is really snobbish. Director Nicole Holofcener also got her start working on some of the films in question, but unlike those films, Enough Said looks at class differences with tenderness and shows that being cerebral doesn’t belong to the bourgeoisie.
The Last Days of Disco. The wit you want and the moral exposé of male dishonesty you crave. Also, I once saw Chloe Sevigny at Yonah Schimmel’s.
LA Story. If you absolutely must have a romance with an age difference in your rom-com, make it one with the of-age, consenting, and breezily nonmonogamous SanDeE*. LA Story also offers an age-appropriate love interest who is quirky yet competent and has her own choices to make. She even gets to enjoy the fantastic elements of the story along with the zany star comedian. Plus, the opening montage lovingly makes fun of a city that couldn’t care less about its high potential for satire.
Chewy Moral Dilemmas
One of Allen’s films that I never much cared for asks its audience whether it was wrong to commit a crime if you knew you could get away with it. May I suggest, instead, a film that asks whether it is wrong to kill men, like Under the Skin? After watching Scarlett Johansson contemplate the ethics of her own consumption and the limits of female interiority, I thought she might be a good actress, after all (which was not made clear to me by her appearance in the director’s other movies).
Existential Dread, General
On an obvious level, everything this director ever made is indebted to Ingmar Bergman, including his employment and abuse of brilliant actresses. But did you know that women also think about death? I recommend Agnes Varda’s Cleo From 5 to 7, which follows a woman in wait of a cancer diagnosis as anxious signs of her own mortality follow her around all day.
Cinema as Form of Dreaming
The Oscars will likely have some form of “Salute to Cinema,” à la Jack Donaghy’s “Salute to Fireworks,” that tells us movies are important because they allow us to dream. But if your dreams are more about feeling than plot, are more collaborative than the work of a singular genius, cycle back to the same moment but always seem a bit different, never feel fully finished, or are in black and white, watch Maya Deren’s short film, The Meshes of the Afternoon.
An Actress who is ACTING
Carol, because Cate Blanchett should have won her Oscar for this one instead of for her Blanche DuBois impression. And if there’s a certain dreaminess you desire, you can’t do better than her delivery of the line, “My angel…flung out of space.”
Speaking of Carol, you could also go with Hester Street, staring Carol Kane, who bore the brunt of the director-protagonist’s internalized anti-Semitism in one of his more beloved films. It’s also very Jewish, in case what you are really looking for is —
Something Very Jewish
Just watch anything by Mel Brooks. Mel Brooks is a mensch. Mel Brooks told off Elia Kazan at a Director’s Guild of America meeting for not wanting to enforce hiring quotas that would help more women get employed in Hollywood — and he compared the move to Kazan’s naming names before HUAAC. Start with Madeline Kahn singing “I’m Tired” from Blazing Saddles and follow up with whatever’s clever. My dad likes to say that he went to see High Anxiety when it was in theaters and was the only person laughing the whole time. If you, too, would like to feel exceptional, you could start here instead.
Swooning over New York City
There’s a reason why the director in question has moved his filming locations to fantasy versions of Europe. It’s easy to romanticize a city in the decades when it was left for dead. So much of New York has been homogenized by gentrification that whatever grit or resilience endures in its residents depends on our putting up with unlivable infrastructure, not some ineffable New Yorkness. That said, I do think Man on Wire pulls of the difficult stunt of portraying what is, after all, still romantic about the city: setting your sights on it from afar, and, at great risk to life, and for just a moment, taking a bow as you turn the impossible into the miraculous.