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'Another Woman'

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 04, 1988


Woody Allen
Gene Rowlands;
Gene Hackman;
Ian Holm;
Mia Farrow;
John Houseman;
Blythe Danner;
Sandy Dennis
Parental guidance suggested

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It's the Wood Man as the Berg Man, sowing his wild strawberries again in "Another Woman." Despite last year's fiasco "September," Allen has returned with yet another stuffy drama in the Bergman manner. Sven Nykvist, Bergman's cinematographer, lends a sallow, Stockholmian veracity to the vision. And Allen lends pretension; he's as tiresome as the movie-line snob he ripped in "Annie Hall."

Elegant Gena Rowlands has the central role of Marion, a 50-year-old professor of German philosophy who realizes she has everything and yet nothing. Mia Farrow, the mother of the auteur's child, plays Hope. She is the hugely pregnant patient of the analyst next door, whose sessions drift through the air vents into the apartment Marion has sublet to work on her latest thesis. Marion feels compelled to eavesdrop, hearing echoes of her own dilemma in Hope's despondency. Through vicarious psychoanalysis, Marion sets out on a stilted but somewhat engaging search for self in dream sequences and flashbacks. Ostensibly about passion, the movie has less real emotional content than a lounge lizard's rendition of "Feelings."

Chilly beauty, celebrated author and wife of a heartless cardiologist (Ian Holm), Marion is the envy of her Bryn Mawr clique. But as with "Annie Hall's" Alvy Singer, inner peace and sexual fulfillment have eluded her. Sex "isn't erotic anymore," says Marion, an Alvy in a bun. "We are simply going through an inactive period," says her husband. He is a "preeg," as the famous novelist (Gene Hackman) she really loved pronounces "prig."

"Forgive me. I accept your condemnation," he declares augustly when his ex-wife (Betty Buckley) calls him Uptown Slime at Marion's book party. "What would Emily Post say about a man committing adultery with a philosophy professor in a Holiday Inn while his wife is having her ovaries removed?" she demands.

The palaver is so wooden, the actors -- from saucy Martha Plimpton to the venerable John Houseman -- need chain saws to cut through it. Lines like "We stopped at a gallery and spent some time marveling over the pictures" are not atypical. And that's not counting the graduate school name-dropping. With references to Rilke, Brecht, Klimt, Allen woos the preegs he lampooned as recently as "Hannah and Her Sisters." That was a comedy taken seriously, full of insight, angst and joy. "Another Woman" is merely drafty.

The crowd here is supposed to be a lusty lot, but you can't tell by looking (except for the aggressive Hackman). We learn of their sexual drive when a couple tell a cocktail party anecdote about a recent romp on their living room floor. Marion touches her careful coif, straightens her suit jacket and wonders whether she is perceived as the "hardwood floor type." After examining her relationships with her brother (Harris Yulin), father (Houseman), girlhood friend (Sandy Dennis), first husband/mentor (Philip Bosco), she realizes that she has managed, not lived, her life. She's as starchy as her husband's stuffed shirt.

"Another Woman" is as staged and passionless as Marion's existence, an ambitious project not just inspired by, but dictated by, the brooding style of Bergman. Once again, Allen has mistaken unfunny for serious, feeling the breath of immortality on his shoulder. If only he'd learn to relax with the fact that he's Bergman in the mask of comedy, a classic on his own.

Another Woman is rated PG.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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