Woody Allen's movies are getting more serious by the minute. Not so long ago, a somber film like ``Interiors'' marked an exception to his mostly comic approach. But his new movie, ``Another Woman,'' is his second laughless picture in a row, following ``September,'' one of the least popular movies of his career. Even his comedies have been showing more and more seriousness - remember the dramatic scenes in ``Hannah and Her Sisters''? Mr. Allen is such a talented writer and director that many moviegoers have welcomed his interest in exploring the darker sides of life. ``Interiors'' was a strong drama, and even ``September'' had a claustrophobic intensity that was hard to ignore. In his new picture, though, he pushes his sour streak too far. It's an ambitious movie, but also a pretty bad one.
The main character, Marion, is a professor and author who has always placed professional success ahead of personal goals. Now that she has entered middle age, however, she's started to wonder if her decisions have been wise. Her self-questioning grows into a crisis when she rents a new office, settles down to write a new book, and finds that she can overhear the conversations in a psychiatrist's office down the hall.
Listening to these sessions, Marion is fascinated with the problems of a pregnant woman who regularly pours her heart out to the doctor. She becomes more and more involved with the life of this badly depressed woman, and starts thinking about painful issues in her own experience. Through encounters with her family and friends - and through fantasies, dreams, and flashbacks - she starts to reexamine the assumptions on which her life has been based.
``Another Woman'' returns Allen to a theme that's interested him for years: the trouble some people have experiencing pleasure. The technical term for this condition, ``anhedonia,'' was the original title for ``Annie Hall,'' his best movie about people who have lots of advantages - plenty of intelligence and physical comfort - but can't seem to relax a little and enjoy life.
Just about everyone in ``Another Woman'' has some degree of anhedonia, and I'm afraid the movie does, too. This raises an interesting question in film aesthetics: How much should a movie embody its own themes? Everyone is pleased when a film with a bright, optimistic message is bright and optimistic itself. But when a movie says life can be gloomy and boring, should it be gloomy and boring to watch? More specifically, should an attack on intellectuals and academics be archly written and stiffly structured, as if it were made not by expert filmmakers but by parodies of intellectuals and academics?
``Another Woman'' raises this question all too vividly. Its characters are intellectual zombies, and it's neither entertaining nor stimulating to visit them in their mostly cold and sterile habitats. This is regrettable, especially since Allen has brought together a cast that's dazzling even by his high standard. Gena Rowlands plays the key role of Marion, and you can feel her explosive talent working to resist the ponderous weight of her role. Supporting parts are played by a roster of first-rate actors: Mia Farrow, Gene Hackman, Blythe Danner, John Houseman, Sandy Dennis, Martha Plimpton, Ian Holm, and Philip Bosco, among many others.
Most of the performers have effective moments, and they're all luminously photographed by Sven Nykvist, one of the world's great cinematographers. But there's not much anyone can do with Allen's screenplay, which is full of abrupt revelations, stark encounters, and a dream sequence that's hopelessly undreamlike. Allen's ambition is commendable, as always, but ``Another Woman'' is the weakest movie of his career.