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If Wild Man Blues was a snapshot, Woody Allen: A Documentary is a photo album. From his early days in Brooklyn via stand-up comedy to his 47 years making movies, “America’s foremost humorist” (as first wife Louise Lasser dubs him) gets a thorough going-over from Curb Your Enthusiasm director Robert B. Weide.
Illustrated with clips and talking heads aplenty (not least Allen’s), A Documentary starts enthusiastically. Running through those “early funny ones”, the Oscar-winning Annie Hall and critical darling Manhattan , the first half is, accordingly, a joy to watch. While early collaborators Tony Roberts and Diane Keaton make appearances, ’80s muse/partner Mia Farrow is unsurprisingly absent.
Their high-profile split during 1992’s Husbands And Wives is covered – in the same brisk manner with which everything else is addressed. Likewise, recent lesser works – “the clunkers” as Mariel Hemingway calls them – are assessed, briefly, by critic F.X. Feeney. Weide largely keeps a respectful distance – which may explain why he gets access to Allen on the set of You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger and in the cutting room.
The funny/serious quandary and Allen’s philosophical/religious beliefs are ticked off, with newer collaborators chipping in. But it results in a sanitised portrait that avoids the difficult questions. As Allen says, “Despite all these lucky breaks, why do I still feel screwed somehow?” Those wanting more might feel the same way.
One for the fans, Weide’s doc is a pleasant career overview but if you’re looking for something more probing, it’ll drive you Bananas.
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