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Shtick Figure

In Barbara Kopple's documentary, Woody Allen plays Woody Allen

Where he seems most comfortable is in hotel rooms, grousing with Soon-Yi and complaining about the paparazzi or the service. It's hilarious seeing 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 like 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 thinks it "long and tedious." (She's right about that, too.) Soon-Yi doesn't seem to be in awe of Allen, or even turned on to him; she's more like one of those attentive Girl Fridays that powerful men often attract. As it's presented to us, there's an element of play-acting in their marriage; it has a rehearsed easy-goingness that doesn't seem particularly put on for the cameras. They're like a comedy act, but even though he's old enough to be her grandfather, they don't really play up the generation gap. 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, but he loves being pampered for his miseries. When he catches a "classic head cold" at the end of his concert 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 massive 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 neurosis. This family stuff is so stereotypically obvious that your first thought is: Why has Allen needed therapy all these years to figure out why he's so screwed up? Your second thought is: He'll never get out of therapy.

Wild Man Blues.
Rated PG.
Directed by Barbara Kopple. With Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn.

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