On his way out of New York on his way to his adopted home in Paris, the Woodman did manage one of those funny movies that Sandy’s fans and the aliens had asked for in his least-liked signature classic Stardust Memories.
To begin with, Hollywood Ending has much of the ad-libbing Allen himself was renown for in various past characters. It is cynically about the American film industry which he has weighed in on for decades in many other films. It has numerous good supporting character roles and performances which frequently lift his pictures to a higher level; in particular, all the women’s roles in Hollywood Ending accurately cover a gamut of female possibilities and types. And this comedy has a number of other familiar themes that Allen has visited and revisited before. That and some strong quotable lines and stinging, pointed ones as well, in the familiar style that many real people talk in: carping, complaining, angsting, trivializing, and so forth.
Allen himself as Val Waxman (a takeoff on Canadian comedian Al Waxman’s name–and by the way, there are several good satirical lines about Canada), a director wanting to make a comeback, is a bundle of neuroses which naturally leads to his psychosomatic blindness during the filming of his ‘great’ noirish-comeback-movie-turned disaster. Allen does a number of very funny pratfalls a la Chaplin and comic situations built around his temporary symbolic blindness.
There is also an ongoing, underlying love story about Val being reunited with his former wife-film producer Ellie, convincingly played by Tea Leoni, in addition to Val’s humorous encounters with shallower, flawed, but believable other women. There are strong funny scenes such as blind Val’s visit to nymphomaniac-actress’s dressing room, his fall off a scaffolding in the background of one scene, his shot-in-Canada commercial, and a visit to his alienated son who eats rats in musical performances and who has changed his name to Scumbag X.
There are numerous shots at Hollywood and California style–Treat Williams is excellent as Val’s slick rival and George Hamilton punctuates the overall pointless shallowness of the film world Val is repeatedly forced to compromise with. And the ending, ironically, mirrors what actually happened to Allen himself and why he left the States for adulation and greater support and freedom abroad. The crazy surprise ending mirrors the sudden, unexpected, irrational blindness that besets Al midway through the movie. and the seeds of Orson Wellesian greatness that had been hoped for and predicted which come absurdly true in a comically-logical decidedly old-school-movie that is genuinely entertaining; ironically, unlike so many of the recent European Allen films with the exception of Midnight in Paris, itself a successful gem about the wisdom of following one’s heart. (Which Val does in this movie and which Woody has always done in his life apart from others and his audiences.)