Hal Hinson - Style section, "Airy and insubstantial."
Mira Sorvino won an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for her role in this film.
Lenny is a neurotic sportswriter married to overambitious art dealer, Amanda. Talked by his wife into adopting a child, Lenny slowly warms to his infant son. He develops an interest in the kid's mystery background—in part because he's disillusioned with Amanda, who's clearly heading toward a romance with gallery owner Jerry Bender.
After ransacking files at the adoption office and following other leads, Lenny tracks down the boy's mother, Linda, a hooker with long legs, no education and a voice that can shatter glass. Without revealing his agenda, Lenny gets to know her platonically, by paying for her time. Eventually they become friends and Lenny assumes a caretaking role, including setting her up with single boxer Kevin and buying out her pimp. --Desson Howe
‘Aphrodite’: Mighty Lame
By Desson Howe
It used to be enjoyable to peer into the mind of Woody Allen—even though his brain, as he pointed out in "Annie Hall," was only his second-favorite organ. But with his latest movie, "Mighty Aphrodite," it has become not a little scary in there.
In "Aphrodite," Allen plays Lenny, a neurotic sportswriter married to overambitious art dealer Amanda (Helena Bonham Carter). Talked by his wife into adopting a child, Lenny slowly warms to his infant son. He develops an interest in the kid's mystery background—in part because he's disillusioned with Amanda, who's clearly heading towards a romance with gallery owner Jerry Bender (Peter Weller).
After ransacking files at the adoption office and following other leads, Lenny tracks down the boy's mother, Linda (Mira Sorvino), a buxom hooker with long legs, no education and a voice that can shatter glass. Without revealing his agenda, Lenny gets to know her platonically, by paying for her time. Eventually they become friends and Lenny assumes a caretaking role, including setting her up with single boxer Kevin (Mark Rapaport) and buying out her pimp.
In this loser-and-the-whore story line, Allen's sensibilities have taken a turn for the nasty. As an artist, he seems burdened with ugly, twisted troubles and, frankly, he's just dumping them on us. It's hard not to psychoanalyze the ironic parallels between his heavily publicized legal turmoils with ex-wife Mia Farrow over their adoptive children, and this self-serving movie about the growing love between a little boy and his L.L. Bean-catalogue father.
As Lenny, he sanctifies himself rather heavy-handedly as a noble, altruistic mensch, an eventual good husband and the best adoptive dad in Manhattan. But there doesn't seem to be a trace of genuine love in his home. Nothing would be better, it becomes unintentionally apparent, than for Lenny to leave this cold-blooded marriage.
As a writer, Allen's sole idea of showing profound paternal love is to have Lenny shower his kid with expensive gifts and briefly take him to a basketball court. Allen also bombards us with colorful jokes about oral sex and pornography (taking particular delight in the titles of the hooker's porno flicks); and his production designer, Santo Loquasto, festoons her apartment with enough phalluses and copulating figurines to make Salome herself cry for mercy.
Conversely, Allen's non-sexual gags are unimaginatively respun oldies: When he's not an enthusiastic dirty old man, Allen's just a tired riff on himself. When uptight Lenny nervously fends off a dutifully amorous Linda at their first private session, it's more pathetic than funny. And in the movie's worst conceit of all, the modern story cuts away regularly to a Chorus—a real Greek one—in which F. Murray Abraham leads a group of masked, cloaked commentators in Brooklyn-influenced admonitions.
"Freeze Lenny, don't be a schmuck," comes one choral peal, when Lenny decides to find out about Linda. "I see disaster," says a Cassandra figure, referring to extramarital shenanigans threatening the central marriage. "I see catastrophe and, worse, I see lawyers."
Clearly, Allen doesn't care to converse with us on that friendly, sleeve-tugging level anymore. Where there was once mordant wit—a dialogue of intellectual, clever secrets between him and us—now there's only nasty bite. After a brief rally with the movies "Husbands and Wives," "Manhattan Murder Mystery" and "Bullets Over Broadway," (estimable but comparatively coldhearted successes), he has slumped into cynicism.
In a scene reminiscent, once again, of "Annie Hall," Lenny sees a beautiful, happy couple crossing the street in front of his waiting taxi. This prompts him to remember better times with Amanda—better, judging by the flashback we see, because Amanda wore no brassiere under her blouse. And as he laments the good old days, so do we.
Mighty Aphrodite (R) — Contains sexual situations, graphic sexual language and big credit-card bills at FAO Schwarz.
‘Aphrodite’: Mighty Flighty
By Hal Hinson
According to Greek mythology, Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, was shaped by Zeus out of ocean foam. Woody Allen's new "Mighty Aphrodite" is so airy and insubstantial that it might have been fashioned from the same stuff.
A modern romantic comedy set in the writer-director-star's beloved Manhattan, the film is yet another Allen meditation on the nature of love and marriage. And like so many of his recent efforts, it's a mixed bag—deftly and hilariously philosophical in some places, deeply disengaged and prosaic in others. The film's protagonist, Lenny (Allen), is a newspaper sportswriter whose wife, Amanda (Helena Bonham Carter), insists on having a child. After some initial protests from Lenny—and the realization that Amanda doesn't really have time to be pregnant—the couple adopt a beautiful infant boy.
Like all new fathers, Lenny is convinced that his son is something special. Curious about the child's origins, he tracks down the boy's birth mother. It's not clear what Lenny expected to discover in his search—a violinist with the New York Philharmonic, perhaps?—but Linda (Mira Sorvino) is not it. Part-time call girl and porn actress and full-time flake, Linda is a strapping woman in her twenties for whom sex is a kind of naughty child's play. Like the Jennifer Tilly character in "Bullets Over Broadway," Linda is a vulgarian. Her accent is punishing, and her voice is high and fruity; if she has a shred of taste or intelligence, it's not apparent from either her wardrobe or her apartment's furnishings.
Inexplicably, Lenny becomes obsessed with Linda. Not sexually, mind you, but morally. He can't understand why such a lovely young woman with so many opportunities would debase herself just for money. And at this point, the movie begins to feel downright peculiar. This is partly because of the lack of a credible motive for Lenny's continuing involvement with the mother of his son. Actually, sex would be a reasonable motive for Lenny's preoccupation. But even though Lenny eventually does sleep with Linda, the film backs away from the darker implications of Lenny's actions by dressing them up in intellectual rags.
Allen intercuts the story with scenes featuring masked actors in classical costumes who function exactly like the chorus in a Greek tragedy, except that there are more jokes here. It seems that what Allen would like to imply is that his attraction is classical in its origins, like the inexorable attraction of Oedipus to his mother. But Lenny isn't a tragic hero; he's a pipsqueak. And though Allen would like us to believe that Lenny is exploring important questions about such ineffable qualities as personality, talent and intelligence, the filmmaker is clearly ducking such issues.
Instead "Mighty Aphrodite" seems strangely impersonal, and with the exception of Sorvino, the entire cast—even Allen—appears to be running on low energy. And yet, because the film focuses on Lenny's obsession with the mother of an adopted child, Allen's recent and much-publicized domestic troubles give it an eerie feel. At best "Mighty Aphrodite" plays like an elaborate intellectual rationalization for questionable, if not creepy, behavior.
Mighty Aphrodite is rated R.