The simplest equations in life are usually complicated only by the tortured egos of the players, and these players twist themselves into pretzels trying to make life work.
"Bullets Over Broadway" is a very funny movie that soars on the talents of an inspired ensemble cast. Their success springs in part from the physical absence of Woody Allen, whose celebrity has become a distraction. By staying off screen, he showcases his extraordinary ways as writer, director, and truth-seer.
Allen wrings truth from life by spotlighting it with exaggerations of achingly familiar human behavior. He enlarges the essence of things. When his aspiring artists gather in a Greenwich Village coffeehouse to dissect the dilemmas of the creative life, they are universal. When his characters agonize their ways through life, they are us. Allen's double edge is that he shows us ourselves so cleverly that we squirm while we laugh.
The movie explodes off the starting block when David Shayne (John Cusack), a writer of bad plays who believes they are good, gets a shot at bringing his awful new play to Broadway if he will just compromise his soul. Nick (Joe Viterelli) will finance David's play if his girlfriend, Olive (Jennifer Tilly), is given a substantial supporting role. Will David sell out? What's to sell when you have no talent?
Nick's henchman, Cheech (Chazz Palminteri), will baby-sit Olive for the run of the play. Prima donna Helen Sinclair (Dianne Wiest) will star; and she will try to control everyone who steps into her reflected glory. Allen brings the cast together for the first rehearsal in a hilarious piece of revelation, and when he's finished, we know the foibles and eccentricities of each of his characters.
This is a gang of Roaring Twenties-era writers and actors who operate within the magnetic field of Broadway against a backdrop of period molls, dolls, and the men who own them. Gangsters talk about arson, murder, and revenge as if they were items on a grocery list. People get bumped off on docks as casually as an employee is reprimanded by a boss. It's all cardboard, and it's very funny because Allen telegraphs his obvious punches with great subtlety.
Diane Wiest invests Helen with the outrageous behavior of the star who knows her remaining time in the arena is short. She toasts "an ideal world with no compromise" as she and everyone around her bargain their souls away--except for Cheech, who becomes the noble presence. He is the hood with a surefire ear for the dialogue of life and an unshakable determination to protect the integrity of the play he has made his own. Chazz Palminteri breezed into view last year in "A Bronx Tale," a movie he wrote, directed, and stole from Robert De Niro. As Cheech, his performance is nearly perfect.
Watching other people mess up can be excruciatingly funny. The simplest equations in life are usually complicated only by the tortured egos of the players, and these players twist themselves into pretzels trying to make life work. It's a beautiful example of Woody's pastiche of crystal-clear contradictions. It's Woody Allen.
Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 496
Rating: PG 1h39m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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