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Mighty Aphrodite

Mighty Aphrodite

6 months ago via Movies on iPhone

"He's playing God!"

Woody Allen seems like the sort of guy who's easily flustered. Huge claim, I know. But his nebbishy demeanor and all-night study-cram verbal temperament strikes me as someone who'd rather step in from the sidelines and do something for you rather than stand idly by and softly mutter to himself. "Mighty Aphrodite" is the first film in Allen's dense creative career which seems to have been at least partially inspired by the breaking of the infamous 1992 scandal surrounding the then-56-year-old's romantic entanglement with a woman more than thirty years his junior. Top it all off with the fact Allen's modern-set script for "Aphrodite" was vaguely drawn from the Greek myth of Pygmalion -- a sculptor who fell in love with a statue he'd chiseled -- complete with an onscreen chorus (led by F. Murray Abraham), and you can imagine the field day critics who often peg Allen's worldview as "condescending" could have with his 1995 Oscar-winning romp.
They aren't exactly wrong, at least in the case of "Mighty Aphrodite", anyway. Allen goes for gold in riffing on culture and class warfare. "Aphrodite" would hardly be a blip if not for her, but the quarter-way appearance of Mira Sorvino, daughter of "Goodfellas" actor Paul, in a breakout role, certainly helps. As the biological mother of the recently adopted son of Lenny (Allen) and Amanda (Helena Bonham Carter) Weinrib, whom Lenny is hellbent on seeking out, Sorvino's Linda Ash -- a porn star, prostitute, and aspiring Broadway actress -- is busty, funny, obliviously tone-deaf and simple, a timid and tender soul almost aside herself in the bombshell body of a grown-up would-be sex symbol. A different approach to the character might have been hammy and loud, but Sorvino -- New York-born and Harvard-bred, with a tall, dirty-blonde, wispily pretty poise -- plays Linda without ever playing her up or over. That's Allen's job, and it's part of "Aphrodite's" shortcomings at not being the quote-unquote "great" movie it could have been.
Where works like "Annie Hall", "Manhattan" and "Crimes and Misdemeanors" feel like high points of a certain mid to late-'70s into '80s era of rambling Woody Allen muse -- and even more recent films such as "Midnight in Paris" and "Blue Jasmine" feel like dazzling singular entities unto themselves -- "Mighty Aphrodite" is of the time nearing the turn of the century where Allen wasn't necessarily taking a sharp turn in terms of style, but was becoming far more generous and whimsical with his stamp. While it can register as light as a feather and too haphazardly off-the-cuff, "Aphrodite" is also clever, thoroughly engaging, and features a best-ever performance from Sorvino. It's Allen's humble gaze that's only intermittently mighty. (78/100)

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