“Of all human weaknesses, obsession is the most dangerous, and the silliest!”
So says the Greek chorus and so say I. But not when it comes to my obsession with Woody movies; or so I assume. He proves yet again that he was born to be a writer and meant to be an artist. Mighty Aphrodite is an amusingly comical tale about romance, irony and obsession with a touch of Greek mythology. Now, you don’t have to know much about the Greeks to understand this movie. Woody does his best to make it seem more relatable to the ‘ungreek’ eyes.
Mighty Aphrodite could be mistaken for a theatrical play with the Greek Chorus jumping in with their words of wisdom and that too with immense humor and wit. They might seem unwanted to some, but for me they held the act together with verve and gusto.
Most of Allen’s movies have jazz playing with beautiful scenes of New York and Manhattan at the heart of its plot. It is almost a given in Allen’s work, but not in this one. It was as non-American as he can get with his creations. With Spanish Guitar playing at the opening scene, Woody tries hard to keep up with it and gives it up at the end of the movie by making the Greek Chorus sing the tunes of Frank Sinatra’s “When You’re Smiling (the whole world smiles with you)”. This was Jazzy to the core. But that’s Woody Allen for you, a diehard New Yorker. By giving a contemporary handle to the Greek drama, Woody discovers Aphrodite in New York.
We meet the ancients in modern context: Cassandra the prophetess, Tiresias the blind seer, the Chorus with its constant commentary, today’s Trojan hero, Lenny Weinrib (Allen), who rides subways and elevators instead of a wooden horse to reach his Helen of Troy. But who is she? A mother? A hooker? What can Lenny do about it? Here is where the chorus comes handy. Leave it onto them to explicate the situation.
The Chorus is directed in what is called a “4th Wall” technique, which allows them to break out from the action and talk to the audience directly. They foretell the gifts of the future and predict the danger that lies in our protagonist’s life, but can take no action; which Lenny points out to the Chorus leader: You know, that’s why you will always be a Chorus member because you don’t do anything. I act. I take action. I make things happen.
At the end though, it’s Lenny who has to take the helm by means of his own wit.
Greek Chorus: Remember brave Achilles.
Lenny: Achilles only had an Achilles’ heel. I have a full Achilles body.
A beautiful and talented cast makes it a delightful treat. With Helena Bonham Carter, F. Murray Abraham, Michael Rapaport and Academy Award winner for her role in this movie, Mira Sorvino.
Critics could not have made it sound sweeter with their words when it was released way back in September of 1995. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called the film “a sunny comedy” and added, “The movie’s closing scene is quietly, sweetly ironic, and the whole movie skirts the pitfalls of cynicism and becomes something the Greeks could never quite manage, a potential tragedy with a happy ending.”
And that brings me to the 20th Woody Allen movie on my “Must watch Woody Allen movies” list; chronologically speaking.