In mainstream American cinema, there are few great artists who carve their own personal niche out of the industry-driven film business, but Woody Allen is certainly one of the rare individuals who manages to provide personal and consistently clever movies. His marked prolificacy has allowed him to write and direct 26 movies in as many years, and while his many films are not all entirely successful, his work has maintained a consistent level of high quality, ranging from cute and clever ("Manhattan Murder Mystery") to thought-provoking masterworks ("Crimes and Misdemeanors" or "Bullets Over Broadway").
"Mighty Aphrodite" falls into the "cute and clever" category, fitting its simple story with an outrageous narrative device that elevates the film into a heart-warming affirmation of love and life suffused with Allen's trademark poignancy. The film presents Lenny and Amanda Weinrib, two New Yorkers who adopt a child named Max. When Max enters school and begins achieving high test scores, Lenny becomes obsessed about knowing who his real mother is. Lenny's curiosity gets the better of him and he decides to travel around and find Max's birth mother.
As Lenny searches for the real mother, his wife Amanda begins falling for the flirtatious advances of a mutual friend and his marriage begins to topple. Lenny finally discovers Max's birth mother, Linda, but he's shocked to find she's a shockingly foul-mouthed and ditzy porn star, and he begins encouraging her to escape her self-destructive lifestyle.
In describing the plot of "Mighty Aphrodite," it doesn't sound much like a wacky comedy, but that's the secret to Allen's success. He knows the more "realistic" and "serious" the situations in a comedy are, the funnier it is. Lenny's trials draw the audience into his hopes and fears and the obstructive walls become more sharply ironic and frenzied.
But the true creative spark behind the film is Allen's hilarious decision to place the film within the context of a Greek drama. Throughout the movie, the setting shifts to an outdoor amphitheater in Greece where a choreographed Chorus evaluates the plot, gesturing dramatically and using an assortment of classical props. In unison, the omniscient commentators predict the possible resolutions and warn the movie's character's of foreboding events that lay in wait. The Chorus also makes abrasive comments and become emotionally swept up in the drama, breaking into spontaneous doo-wop musical numbers performing songs like "When You Smile." The dancing numbers are show-stopingly hilarious, playing themselves out like a Woody Allen movie directed by Monty Python.
The rest of the film is standard Allen: Couples in romantic fluxes torn between morality and opportunity, hilarious one-liners, fantastic performances (especially by Mira Sorvino), existential romanticism and the urban landscape of contemporary New York. While "Mighty Aphrodite" isn't as intricately plotted as Allen's latest films, his sense of situational irony and creativity make it a highly appealing comedy.
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