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There’s love, and loss, and betrayal, and ego, and death ...
yet none of these epic themes ever leap from the screen as full or human or even interesting. Perhaps that is Allen’s point—his films have long been interested in existentialism and, lately, nihilism—but nothing in They do. And while that’s a truism that has animated the output of artists from Shakespeare to Austen to Kanye, “matters of the heart” have never, really, been Allen’s strong suit.
True, his films feature characters (men, mostly) doing foolish things because of love (dating inappropriate women, largely).
As my colleague Sophie Gilbert pointed out last year: In 1996, at the age of 61, he successfully wooed the 29-year-old Julia Roberts in Everyone Says I Love You, the year after he had an affair with Mira Sorvino’s 20-something prostitute in Mighty Aphrodite.
In 1979’s Manhattan, Allen’s 40-something character, Isaac, dates a 17-year-old schoolgirl played by Mariel Hemingway (the film is believed to be based on Allen’s real-life experiences dating 16-year-old Stacey Nelkin, whom he met on the set of Annie Hall and dated while she was attending Stuyvesant High School).
But the subtle give-and-take that guides deep human connection?
Allen certainly was a visionary, many times over—and also, as both a cause and effect of that, a product of his times.He rose to fame around the same years, in the United States, that psychotherapy was becoming a standard mode of dealing with the world (one study found an eightfold rise in the number of psychologists who focused on mental health between 19); he channeled that shift, becoming a de facto mascot of the nation’s newfound awareness of its own mental impulses.“For God’s sake, Alvy,” exclaims a girl in While Allen may not be, strictly, a member of that generation, his films embraced its aesthetics—and its ethics., out in wide release this week, is not a good movie.Its plot is weak; its characters are flat; it seems to have no artistic or moral convictions save for its recognition that love can be really awkward and that Kristen Stewart can be really pretty—but all that seems, at this particular moment in the affairs of the world and in the career of Woody Allen, to be somehow beside the point.
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The movie premiered in May at Cannes, as the film festival’s opener.