Woody Allen’s films seem to get whispier and more ephemeral every year. For all its small pleasures “Hollywood Ending” is so light it nearly floats off the screen.
Allen plays Val, a movie director who is brilliant but so neurotic that no one will work with him. His ex-wife, Ellie (Tea Leoni) arranges for him to have one last chance to direct — a movie set in New York that seems perfect for him. Her new boyfriend Hal (Treat Williams) is reluctant to trust Val with a $60 million movie, but he goes along with it because Ellie wants Val to do it, and he trusts her to keep Val under control.
The problem is that Val is so neurotic that just before the film is supposed to begin shooting, he develops hysterical blindness. His agent, Al (real-life movie director Mark Rydell) persuades him that blindness is no reason not to go ahead and make the movie.
So, Val shoots the movie. The only people who know the truth are Al and a Chinese student hired to translate for the cameraman, who does not speak English. Despite the fact that the director never looks anyone in the eye and his directions make no sense, everyone keeps talkng about his artistic “vision” and his leading lady tells him that she loves the way he looks at her.
Various mix-ups and pratfalls later, the movie turns out to be a $60 million mess, but there is indeed a Hollywood ending and almost everyone lives happily ever after.
Allen gets a lot of credit for poking fun at his own reputation, and there are a couple of movie industry jokes that will be funny for anyone who watches “Entertainment Tonight” or reads “People.” The movie has some great lines and some funny scenes, especially when Val and Ellie get together for their first business meeting and it keeps exploding into recrimination about their divorce. “Will and Grace’s” Deborah Messing is delicious as Val’s airhead girlfriend, who does leg stretches while she talks on the phone and whose only response to hearing that he is breaking up with her is, “Am I still in the movie?”
Overall, though, the movie feels a little tired. Not one character is as distinctive as any of Anne Hall’s family members or the robots in “Sleeper.” This is middle of the road Woody Allen — a pleasant diversion for his fans, but it won’t make any new ones.
Parents should know that the move has some sexual references and situations, including adultery. There is some strong language and a reference to drug use.
Families who see this movie should talk about why people sometimes put up obstacles to realizing their dreams. What made Val decide to reconcile with his son? Why wasn’t it possible earlier? Why did Woody Allen name the male characters Val, Al, and Hal?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Curse of the Jade Scorpion,” “Sleeper,” and “Take the Money and Run.”