Retrospective Review: Alice (1990)
Alice starring Mia Farrow and Joe Mantegna (who as Simpson’s fans will know does the voice of Fat Tony) has been heralded as a one of Woody Allen’s best films of the early 90s. Join me as I take a look back at this loose reworking of Federico Fellini’s film, Juliet of the Spirits.
I must admit, that having started off watching films in which Allen starred or appeared himself, I do find it a little odd when I watch one his movies and he isn’t on screen. Nonetheless, despite not having his energetic comic presence, Alice is still a wonderfully amusing film, that feels light but has a worthwhile message of being honest with oneself, and the need for change.
The film follows Alice Tate, a typical socialite wife married to a wealthy man, who spends her days maintaining her looks, shopping and organising. She is also quietly spoken, timid and always neatly dressed, she seems almost like a shy school girl sometimes, unsure of what to do. However, when she goes to see a Chinese herbalist, Dr Yang, about her back he discovers the real root of her trouble. Alice wishes for something more than just being a pretty prop for her husband, and she has discovered new feelings after meeting a handsome man at her kid’s school.
So, with the assistance of many magical herbs from Dr Yang, which doing everything from giving her sudden confidence, to helping her talk to ghosts and muses – and so Alice slowly begins to discover more and more about herself.
I thought this was a rather charming little film of self-discovery. It feels slightly magical and whimsical, mostly because of the magical and fantasy elements, but also because Alice comes across as rather innocent.
That is part of Alice’s great strength in this film, that despite being a rich wife, she is sympathetic for the audience. She is not vain, uncaring, indulgent or snarky. Instead, her character comes across as simply a nice, ordinary woman that married a wealthy man – and now years down the line, finds herself not only bored by the lifestyle she is leading, but also wondering what affect it’ll have on her children’s values. She is basically an ordinary, average woman.
Her process of change is rather good in this film, it feels quite natural because it is slow and she is scared and doubtful. There’s no montage or huge revelations, its little realisations and trying and testing.
On the production side, I felt the film wasn’t as visually interesting or striking as some of Allen’s other works, but I appreciate that is due to the choice in cinematographer. In fact the most striking visuals come from the locations – the rain pouring down the huge windows in Joe’s apartment and the kiss in penguin habitat. The performances on the other hand are excellent, and I enjoyed seeing a young Joe Mategna and Alec Baldwin on screen – what you can see of Baldwin that is!
To Sum Up
This is typical Allen fare, not the strongest of his films, but a fun watch with an ending that gives you exactly what you want.