Mia Farrow peers through the looking glass sparkly in lovely "Alice," a downright adorable collaboration with the mellowed father-of-her-child. Adorable and Woody Allen usually don't go hand in hand, but he seems to have dedicated this funny valentine to his diminutive sweetheart.
Of course, Alice Tate is another of Allen's urban sophisticates, unhappy in love and looking askance at prevailing social mores. But she is also in an offhand way a modern cousin of Paul Mazursky's fledgling feminist in "An Unmarried Woman." It's 1991 already and "Alice" doesn't want to live here anymore.
Farrow gives us Every-Alice, a gentle soul whose journey toward self-discovery begins with a visit to the mysterious Dr. Yang (the late Keye Luke), an herbalist whose concoctions eventually awaken her to the vapidity of her life and the falseness of her friends. "Stop talking about back," says the good doctor, who realizes that her trouble is not in her sacroiliac but in her pent-up heart.
After swallowing a packet of rare Himalayan herbs, Alice is suddenly a femme fatale, forward enough to force an assignation with an intriguing musician (Joe Mantegna) who picks his kids up at the preschool her children attend. "I love the sax," she whispers huskily. When the herb wears off, she is Alice the fawn again, awkward on her new legs and startled at her forwardness. So Dr. Yang prescribes another packet -- one that makes Alice invisible -- and another that lets her talk to the ghost of her late boyfriend (Alec Baldwin).
Both prove enlightening for tiny Alice, who rediscovers her lost dreams and aptitudes. As this is a fable of the '90s, she gradually turns from her materialistic life with all its false riches to find spiritual fulfillment in the joys of having hardly anything. These are, of course, somewhat overrated, but we are currently in a Guilt Decade. And Allen can't resist throwing a little more kindling on the bonfire with this tidy satire of haute Manhattan.
William Hurt plays Alice's husband here with a cold self-confidence that closes out not only his wife but the audience. He's mostly part of the scenery as this selfish, philandering master of the universe, but he does have one of the all-time classic lines in insensitive-guy history. "You have a good personality and you know sweaters," he says to his wife, following a suggestion that she take a part-time job in a friend's boutique.
Mantegna's blue-collar good looks and hesitant chivalry naturally stand out in contrast to the emotionally niggardly Mr. Tate. Yet Joe is not some handsome rescuer. And Allen wisely does not allow Alice to simply fall out of one man's penthouse and into another's chic loft. After sorting out her life, Alice finds -- well, it's a secret.
"Alice," which seems like child's play after last year's sober "Crimes and Misdemeanors," finds Allen at his most optimistic and sentimental since "Radio Days." His pen is not as sharp nor his wit as keen as it has been, but he has become accessible to a broader audience in this whimsical entertainment. It may be damning, but you have the feeling that "Alice" is cut from the same cloth as "Pretty Woman," a bolt of gossamer.
Alice, at area theaters, is rated PG-13 for drug use and chaste sensuality.