The circumstances of Woody Allen’s ‘courting’ of his current wife, Soon-Yi Previn, combined with his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow’s insistence that he sexually molested her as a child might reasonably lead us to the conclusion that the revered little filmmaker is a bit of a grub. And they should certainly throw some light on the portrayal of women in his movies. In this, Ginny (Kate Winslet – a fantastic performance) and her step-daughter Carolina (Juno Temple) come to grief through their love for a man – a playwright (Justin Timberlake) – with whom Allen clearly identifies. Ginny and her husband Humpty (Jim Belushi) are battlers who live and work on Coney Island in the 1950s. Humpty’s daughter turns up on their doorstep after walking out of her marriage to a Florida gangster. Mickey the lifeguard (Timberlake) seduces Ginny before embarking on his conquest of Carolina, who is being hunted down by a couple of guys from the Mob. There is something pathetic about Ginny and Carolina’s neediness, something irritating in Mickey’s high opinion of himself, and Humpty’s oafishness is cruelly overdone. But the plot is tight and compelling, notwithstanding the bad guys’ ineffectual attempts to track down Carolina. It feels more like a play that has been adapted for the screen and, as such, its most successful scenes are those shot in Humpty and Ginny’s home, with long takes and a slowly moving, intimate camera. References to Eugene O’Neill are clunky and self-congratulatory (Allen obviously has a high opinion of himself), but the sensual cinematography of veteran Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now) is a joy throughout. Allen, whose output in his later years has lurched from the awful (Vicky Cristina Barcelona) to the sublime (Midnight In Paris), has ventured once more into the dark territory that he explored in Match Point, with a not dissimilar outcome. The characters are types rather than real people (Ginny excepted), but the drama that unfolds and the morality that it exposes are unnerving for their honesty.
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