In her 11th collaboration with husband Woody Allen, Mia Farrow plays Alice Tate, an upscale Manhattan housewife with an uncaring husband (William Hurt) and two children whom she rarely sees. Alice spends most of her time making the rounds at Manhattan boutiques and shops and supervising
the staff that keeps her sleek apartment organized and tidy. She seems to have it all, yet she is unsatisfied and troubled. She is attracted to a man named Joe (Joe Mantegna) who picks up his kids at the same nursery school attended by the Tate children. Being a shy, guilt-ridden Catholic, Alice
would never think of approaching the man. When she complains of a back pain, she is advised to visit an acupuncturist named Dr. Yang (Keye Luke in his last film appearance). Yang immediately surmises that the problem is not her back. He provides her with a strange herb mixture that, when taken by
Alice, helps her overcome her inhibitions, enabling her to make a date with Joe. When the effect of the herbs wears off, however, she breaks the date and retreats into her shell. Later, she returns to Dr. Yang, who hypnotizes her, offers her opium, then makes her invisible. Roaming around unseen,
she discovers that her husband is having an affair and that her friends maliciously gossip about her behind her back. When she returns from her invisible state, she begins an affair with Joe and continues to visit Dr. Yang for his mystical aid. She confronts her past, settling an old argument with
her sister (Blythe Danner) and encountering the ghost of her first lover (Alec Baldwin). She begins to give in to her artistic impulses (her muse takes on the human form of Bernadette Peters). Eventually, it leads her to dump her husband and to head for Calcutta where she begins working with
Mother Teresa--something she has always longed to do. At the fade-out, her friends are seen talking about how Alice "found herself," while Alice frolics in the park with her kids.
ALICE covers many of the recurring themes in Allen's work, with this film playing much like a combination of ANOTHER WOMAN and THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO (Alice's character is strikingly similar the character Farrow played in the latter film). The problem is that as Allen reworks these themes, he
offers no new insights into the issues he raises. He is an uncommonly simplistic artist whose work, despite its staunch earnestness, remains trite and contrived. The core messages of ALICE--the life of the rich is hollow and one can obliterate guilt by living impulsively--are so uninspired that
even Allen's skill at disguising the banal doesn't work here. In fact, the light tone and the supernatural elements serve to highlight the emptiness of the project. Of course, Allen's increasingly annoying habit of relying on other filmmakers to provide him with his mise-en-scene is in full force;
this time, it's the work of Fellini, rather than that of Bergman, that is raided, but the results are as dreary as ever.
Although Alice is a typically neurotic Allen protagonist, she is not as pathetic as many previous lead characters in Allen's films. The fact that Allen allows his main character to triumph in the end, rather than being bathed in pathos, is something of a step forward. Still, Alice Tate is yet
another variation on the Allen screen persona, the highly moral yet sadly weak character who is surrounded by selfish hypocrites. Further undermining the film is some unpleasant racism. Dr. Yang's stereotypical Oriental is appallingly similar to those commonly found in films of the 30s, and a joke
involving a black man who falls in love with Alice at a party leaves a bad aftertaste, particularly since black characters almost never appear in Allen's work. The film does have the polished look which Allen's work invariably displays, and offers a few laughs as the director continues to show
that, if nothing else, he knows how to stage a gag. Overall the performances are adequate, though Cybill Shepherd and Gwen Verdon are wasted, and only Baldwin really shines. It's a competent work and those who are fans of Allen will no doubt enjoy it, but even they must be growing weary of seeing
him continue to make the same film over and over again.
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