Mira Sorvino won an Oscar for her performance as a bubbleheaded hooker and porn star who happens to be the mother of a bright young boy adopted by a Manhattan couple (Woody Allen and Helena Bonham Carter). The story finds ... more »Allen's sportswriter character becoming curious about the identity of his son's biological mom, and he strikes up a relationship with her without revealing why. This 27th feature written and directed by Allen is a nice combination of smart comedy and some of the wackier energy of his earliest movies. (Between scenes, there's a running gag involving a Greek chorus--actually filmed among some real Greek ruins--who do song-and-dance interpretations of the script's events.) This isn't Allen at his best, but it is a fine minor work graced by Sorvino's spin on the cinema's archetypal dumb blonde. --Tom Keogh« less
"Hot on the high-heels of "Showgirls" comes Woody Allen's latest film, "Mighty Aphrodite," named after the Greek goddess of love, another American film trying to interrogate the questionable mentality and dubious spirituality of the skin trade. A lot will probably be made of the fact that, not satisfied with merely pointing out classical references in his text, Allen decided to have a whole Greek Chorus (consisting of F. Murray Abraham, Olympia Dukakis, David Ogden Stiers and Jack Warden) filmed in an ancient outdoor amphitheater in Taormina, Italy (wearing masks, no less, in a nod to classical authenticity) and genuflect on the alter of genuine myth to underscore the tragic and comedic parts of his film. It doesn't matter how well- versed you are in the Greeks, you'll be able to enjoy what Allen has done with his approach, which is a very refreshing idea for film (bringing it all back home) and also a great surreal scaffold for the situation he presents. Purists be warned. Allen (Now 60 years old, but trying to play his role like he's not a day over 40) and Helena Bonham- Carter (29 years old) are happily married when one day Bonham-Carter's biological clock goes off and she wants to have a baby immediately. Allen hesitates so much at the thought of pregnancy that Bonham- Carter, who really can't wait, says, "fine, let's adopt, then," which of course hits the raw nerve of Allen's masculinity as he defends his genes against the idea of having someone else's child join their family.Allen's character in this film is a sportswriter, adding another "tough" layer to his never-ending quiche of a meditation/angst-ridden search for definitive masculinity. Every scene where Allen suffers some sort of gender-related torment is set in a male arena: When he's fighting on the phone with Bonham-Carter about the decision to adopt, the backdrop is a boxing club with every ring filled with sparring partners. Another scene where he contemplates his situation shows him pacing back and forth on the sidelines watching the New York Giants scrimmage in the Meadowlands. The couple finally decide to adopt a boy, and in one scene in particular I realized just how much Allen is stuck in a zeitgeist rut. In their uptown apartment Allen and Bonham-Carter bandy names back and forth for the new little tike as Allen, forever the cultural namedropper, comes up with the monikers of all of his heroes: Django, Groucho, Thelonius. Bonham-Carter is oblivious to his suggestions as she coddles the baby and suddenly you realize that Allen should have made this film years ago, because the conversation sounds like something that was written for what would have been the sequel to "Annie Hall." Now that he's twenty years removed from the carefree days of dynamic dialogue with Diane Keaton and the spark she brought as Allen's main female foil, Bonham-Carter seems unsure of herself, treating Allen as obligatorily as a father or uncle rather than her husband. Enter the plot. Bonham-Carter is being chased by Peter Weller (48 years old), a seductively sleazy art gallery owner, which sends Allen's mid-life crisis into an absolute tailspin as he begins wondering if he's really happy with his wife, and as he's looking at his newly adopted "son" he wonders aloud what the mother of his adopted child is like. Enter Cassandra and...you get the picture. One of the things I realized while watching "Mighty Aphrodite" is that Allen has spent a good portion of his career in film flagellating himself for not being the American Ingmar Bergman, when all the time he should have been luxuriating in the fact that he's the American Federico Fellini: He has an uncanny sense for seeking out ripe minor actors, ready to be picked, and then letting them find the aspect of the character they're playing that makes them Characters rather than just parts played by actors. Even though I feel as if Bonham-Carter is not given nearly enough room to fully flesh out her character (which is a shame for an actress of her caliber), the film is really about Linda, the real mother of Allen and Bonham-Carter's adopted child, who turns out to be a ditzy porn star overflowing with spunk and zeal.Linda, played by Mira Sorvino (Quiz Show, Barcelona), Paul Sorvino's daughter, steals the film. Allen has tempted fate and defied the Greek Chorus' warnings by seeking out Linda, but since she's in the skin trade he arranges to meet her at her apartment in the guise of being merely a "john." When Allen's reticence at wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am sex gets the better of him, he finally shows the age and mindset that he really is and turns into a grandfather before your very eyes.But, Linda is a ditz first and a hooker second in that she understands her victimization but also begins to realize that her situation is only as hopeless as her innate tenacity is boundless. In the most delicate scene in the film, and maybe the most poignant scene I've seen all year, Sorvino is in her bathtub-sized kitchen trying to defend her life to Allen, and as she keeps talking she realizes her own complicity until she finally mentions that she even had a baby once that she gave up for adoption. Allen gives her this scene by not entering the frame for what seems like a full minute. The direction in this scene alone, in Linda's chessily decorated flat complete with clocks of pigs in heat, shows just how gifted Allen is at being able to take an obscure actress, give her a two-dimensional role and have her find the heart and soul of the film on her own.Leave it to Woody Allen to deliver a film that is fascinating on many levels and is as beautifully structured as anything you're likely to see all year. I don't believe it's Best Picture material, but it does show a very strong return to form for Allen, no matter how unsure he is of reentering the war between the sexes."
Woody's Greek Fantasy. Warm and Funny. Buy It.
B. Marold | Bethlehem, PA United States | 05/07/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"`Mighty Aphrodite', written, directed, and starring Woody Allen seems to be the kind of movie Allen makes after he is worn out doing a strictly realistic, mostly serious movie such as `Crimes and Misdemeanors', `Hannah and Her Sisters', and `Husbands and Wives'. Unlike these excellent seriocomic works, `Mighty Aphrodite' flies off into a world of fantasy similar to the crazy / inventive situations in `Zellig' and `A Midsummer's Night Sex Comedy'.
Allen brings along with him his usual band of big name actors taking off from more remunerative roles to have some fun with this lighthearted comedy. As usual, heavyweights such as F. Murray Abraham, Claire Bloom, Jack Warden, and Olympia Dukakis have such small roles that you hardly notice they are there until they are off screen. In the case of Abraham and Dukakis and Allen stock player David Ogden Stiers, this anonymity is heightened by the fact that they are playing masked members of a Greek chorus, filmed in a ruined Roman amphitheater, in Italy, according to the location credits.
This movie was done for Mirimax and a sizable number of new names appear among the film's executive producers, although I am certain Allen still has his hands firmly on the artistic reins for the filming of the movie. I have no idea which of these new names represents `Sweetland Films', but their only contribution seems to have been a slightly less austere credit crawl at the end of the flick.
Aside from Allen, all of the really heavy lifting on the screen was done by title character actor Mira Sorvino, and it is beyond me how she was nominated for the supporting actress Academy Award and not in the lead actress category, although I suspect it did improve her chances of winning in the lesser category, which she did.
Of Allen's two most important movie subjects, love and death, love is certainly the main issue in this movie, signaled by the fact that Aphrodite is the name of the ancient Greek god of love, represented in this flick by Sorvino's character who is a prostitute and pornographic movie actress who wants to get out of that life and settle down in a more normal setting.
Allen plays a successful New York City sportswriter who gets connected with Sorvino when he and his wife decide to adopt a baby boy, and Allen becomes obsessed with the identity of the real mother, who turns out to be Sorvino. While Allen tries to set Sorvino up with a farmer turned boxer turned farmer, his wife (Carter) hooks up with a business partner (Peter Weller) who threatens to break up their marriage.
While there are a few brief moments of apparent danger when Sorvino's pimp threatens Allen's life if Sorvino quits, the pimp is bought off with nothing more than a pair of courtside tickets to a Knicks game. While the main `realistic' plot is pretty improbable as it is, the real silliness is going on in asides to a full masked Greek chorus very similar to what you would find in productions of plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Thrown into this absurdity is Jack Warden playing a modern blind man named Tiresius encountered on the streets of New York. The joke is that Tiresius is the name of a character in Sophocles' `Oedipus Rex' who makes the prophecy that Oedipus will kill his father. In Allen's version, Tiresius simply clues Allen into the fact that his wife is fooling around with her business partner.
The invocations of the Greek choruses get even more silly as the movie progresses, with the chorus appearing in modern New York near the end of the film, bursting into renditions of Cole Porter and tunes from other modern composers.
Like `Zellig', there is no attempt to avoid straining credulity. Near the end of the movie, Sorvino is rescued from her life of sin by a totally improbable `deux ex machina', which Allen glorifies by simply describing it as such in the voice-over.
This movie is about as close as Allen ever comes after `Annie Hall' to returning to the silliness of early movies such as `Bananas' and `Sleeper'. Unlike the early gag fests, you really feel for the characters in this movie. You don't want Allen to break up with his wife and you want Sorvino to get out of her sex business. And, we are much happier at the end of the movie than we are at the end of `Crimes and Misdemeanors' where a killer escapes justice and the nebbish gets cheated out of his girlfriend.
This is not one of Allen's very best movies, but it is in the upper half. Sorvino's performance is definitely worth the price of admission. "
Damn what a good film
J. Laughlin | Being THAT bored in MS | 06/12/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There seem to be three camps when it comes to Woody Allen. (1) People who love his earlier works and villify his most recent films (2)People who love all of his films (3) People who hate Woody Allen, his films, and anything else related to him. I belong to the second group, and like most of his films. Mighty Aphrodite is a great movie, featuring the performance that put Mira Sorvino on the map. This film also contains a great performance by Michael Rappaport, who has gone on to do more stellar work with Allen. Every time I watch this movie I laugh. If anything, see this film for the Greek chorus led by F. Murray Abraham. Like most of Allens more recent works this film is funny and wacky, while at the same time you don't leave the movie feeling as if you've lost brain cells by watching it."
J. Laughlin | 02/02/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This movie is brilliant. First of all, it purposely follows the structure of a Greek tragedy, and advertises the fact by incorporating a Greek Corus into the flick, which is just so cool. Cassandra appears in the film as does Tyresius (sp?) the blind seer of, ummm... was it Thebes or Troy? Anyway, it's a movie about acts and consequences, revolving around a husband and wife. Yeah Allen writes a lot about relationships, yes disfunction or insecurity are often a aspect, but what some folks don't realize is that he's not writing about "insecurity", or "neurosis" or whatever- he's writing about life and how wonderful, ridiculous, and painful it can be-and how so much of it can thankfully be laughed at. If you want to say he has a shtick, then that's it.Allen's character in this movie is actually one of his most appealing. The Greek tradgedy model is great, because his character only makes two "hubris" inspired mistakes, one of which is simply the desire to find his adopted son's birth mother. This two "decisions of excess", you could say, are the only "typical" Woody Allen devices his character uses.Mira Sorvino is incredible. She's not a "hooker with a heart of gold", not by any means. She's not your typical jaded-whore type either, she just lacks any moral squeamishness when it comes to what she does. She's actually a pretty complex character, so many usually discordant aspects live side-by-side, without being cliche.The ending has a wrap-up from the chorus leader that kind of tells you why the movie is so great, in case you didn't get it. You know, but for the frank sexual talk and situations, this is Allen's sweetest film."
Woody does it again...
www.DavidLRattigan.com | United Kingdom | 11/14/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Woody Allen has never made a truly bad film. On the other hand, judged by his own exceptionally high standard of film-making, he can be pretty hit-and-miss. This one is a sure hit. Mighty Aphrodite is a modern myth, ingeniously told through the lens of classical Greek mythology, about a man who sets out on the fabulous quest for beauty. Woody is a father who tries to find the mother of his adopted son, in the belief that the mother of the child he idolizes will represent perfection. As always in Woody's world, things don't quite turn out as planned.Mira Sorvino is charming, and Woody is - well, WOODY. This also features one of Dick Hyman's best scores (arranged from a number of jazz classics, as usual). And, as ever, one of America's greatest directors skillfully blends fantasy and reality, life and art to create a heartwarming comedy-drama. People tend to perceive Woody as essentially a cynic: In fact, his cynicism is always tempered by a genuine sense of hope; this is keenly felt in one of the director's best nineties films."