Gingerly, awkwardly, apprehensively: you approach any new Woody Allen film these days with few preconceptions and not a little fear/thrill. Bouncing from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the Jewish Manhattan mastery of those neurosis-celebrating, razor-edged words-as-wonder cinematographic feasts to Melinda and bloody Melinda, from all-wise seer/alarmingly attractive nerd to dodgy past-his-best paedophile: it’s been a long journey, and an uncomfortable one. Not a linear, regressive one, though: while Allen’s never quite relived those early glories he has, nevertheless, made some pretty decent stuff in between the dross in recent years. And now he comes along with this. It’s got Penelope Cruz in it. Its got Scarlett Johansson in it. It’s got Gaudi’s Barcelona in it. And it’s by one of the finest, most literate directors in film history. It’s bound to be good, isn’t it?
Well- no. It looks brilliant, obviously: gorgeous, exquisite. It’s got an engaging little plot. Penny and Scarly have a snog. In a stunning villa. For a brief, adolescent, moment I (as I’m sure Allen intended) wished I was the bloke who has to (emotionally and physically) wrestle P and S and the other one (the other one being the subtle, soft-brittle Rebecca Hall who does the most learning, almost finds redemption and who, actually, I found far more alluring than the other two- which probably says something about me or Woody or both of us or . . . )
Ahem. That’s about it. We’re challenged (a bit) to reconsider our views on intimacy and monogamy and risk and settling for the good-enough. We try hard to find a genuinely witty line or really feel anything, to discover a sign that this is A Woody Allen Film (TM), that it is the work of an auteur, as opposed to being, merely, a slightly bent-out-of-shape but generically-directed rom-com. We don’t succeed, though. It’s OK. Just OK. Let’s see where he goes next.