NEW YORK — JEREMY: It strikes me that any column about Woody Allen and his recent movie, Melinda and Melinda, can be written in one of two ways. You can either try to be the detached, Olympian critic, looking at the film in light of the auteur's recent output.
JEREMY: Or the wild fanboy, a big fan from way back who just had to see his latest. Yeah, I see what you mean. They'd be two very different columns, I guess.
JEREMY: Extremely different. The first would focus on the movie as Allen's most self-reflective since Stardust Memories; asking once more what obligations he has to his audience and to his art. Isn't a search for the truth, wherever and however that search is conducted - whether comically or tragically - the most important thing one could possibly do?
JEREMY: Not on a Saturday night. Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying they've all got be Bananas - or even Annie Hall! But I pay my 10 bucks to have a good time, like most people who go to the movies, and any column worth its salt is going to point out that good ideas come across better in interesting (and sometimes funny) packages.
JEREMY: It's true, I suppose. Even Shakespeare had his clowns and low sequences....
JEREMY: You went to college. We get it. Stop showing off. You can be smart without this pseudo-intellectual stuff. Which reminds me: can't Woody Allen stop name-dropping those composers and philosophers? I mean, who talks that way? It's like caviar to you Ivy League types.
JEREMY: Ad hominem attacks are uncalled for here. I suppose you're uninterested in complexity?
JEREMY: Don't put that on me. I loved the concept of the movie - that split, the same basic story told two different ways? Complexity is my lifeblood, man; but you can have high concept without losing entertainment value to show how smart and how arty you are. The problem with a movie like, uh, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen wasn't that it wasn't complicated or that the audience didn't have to know things - it was just that it was a bad movie, badly plotted and boringly written. And when Woody Allen characters don't sound like anyone I know - or anyone I know under 50 - I start getting antsy at how a good idea is going down the tubes.
JEREMY: So you're suggesting an analogy between Allen's filmic choices and a kind of critical discourse - that writing about a movie in a certain kind of way blinds one to other important dimensions of the film, and, similarly, that Allen's decisions to pursue deep meaning have inevitably resulted in lesser entertainment?
JEREMY: Not inevitably. You don't listen well, do you? But they have, often enough. And if you talk about the movie's message and ideas for most of the review, you may forget to answer the only real questions that matter: did you like the movie? Did you think it was good? Would you tell other people to see it?
Woody Allen makes movies, when he's at his best, that are both smart and entertaining, whether they're serious or they're comic or they're in some combination. Movies like Annie Hall and Manhattan and Stardust Memories and Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors and Take the Money and Run and Sweet and Lowdown and more - enough that lesser writer/directors (and they're almost all lesser) gnash their teeth in envy and frustration.
But he doesn't always, and he hasn't very often recently, and when he goes back to his own well and copies himself, we fans won't let him off the hook simply because he starts off by talking about comedy and tragedy.
JEREMY: The self-cannibalization in the recent films has bothered me as well. Some here, but particularly in Anything Else. It was Marx who said that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.
JEREMY: There you go again. See? You can't stop yourself! No self-respecting critic who's just in it for love of the movies is going to quote Marx. Unless you mean Groucho.
JEREMY: I simply don't understand why a critical piece about a film can't contain both intellectual critique and honest emotional response.
JEREMY: I'm telling you - they can. It's just about how you say things. Maybe it's only yours that can't.
JEREMY: I find that deeply offensive and demand we settle this by some honorable means. Perhaps arm wrestling.
JEREMY: You do understand that's going to be pretty tough, don't you? Given our somewhat special circumstances?
JEREMY: Ah, well. C'est la guerre.
(JEREMY snorts in disgust, and heads off to watch Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.)