MIGHTY APHRODITE is an innovative, funny, but slow Woody Allen
comedy that Woody wrote, directed, and stars in. In the movie, Lenny
Weinrib (Woody Allen) is a sportswriter married to an up and coming art
gallery manager and would be owner, Amanda Sloane (Helena
Bonham-Carter). Amanda is an attractive young wife, and Lenny is an
older, frail husband with thinning hair, pale skin and millions of
lines in his face. From the very beginning there is no chemistry
between the two leads, but the audience is supposed to assume that
there once was. Amanda is obsessed with getting her own gallery
whereas Lenny is content hanging out with his sports pals talking about
boxing and basketball.
When Amanda announces that she wants a baby but through adoption
since she does not want to undergo the inconvenience of pregnancy,
Lenny is upset. He says, "Adopt. What. I don't want to adopt. Not
with my genes. I have award winning genes." Given how old and
unhealthy Woody appears in this movie, these lines bear a special
Soon they adopt a baby (Max), and by age 5 he is clearly
brilliant. Max and his father converse a lot. In one of these
interchanges, Max asks, "Who is the boss between you and mommy?" Lenny
taking offense, replies, "Who is the boss? You have to ask that? I'm
the boss. Mommy is only the decision maker."
Max's intellectual capacity sends Lenny off in a quest to find
Max's real mother since Max's father is dead. Lenny wants to know
Max's true lineage. Not surprisingly, the mother (Mira Sorvino from
BARCELONA and BLUE IN THE FACE) turns out to be less that Lenny had
hoped. He finds Max's mom is a porn star turned hooker who has many
names, some unprintable, but as a prostitute, she is now known as Linda
Ash. She comes from a family full of serial rapists, drug pushers, and
Lenny decides to take care of Linda and even attempts to arrange a
relationship with her and one of his young fighter friends, Kevin
(Michael Rapaport). Lenny believes that given their good looks
combined with an equal lack of intelligence they are made for each
other. Linda in her crazy high pitched voice says at one point, "I'm
not religious either. Both of my folks were Episcopalians." Kevin is
so dumb he can barely even construct a full sentence. Together their
IQs would not add up to more two digits.
The innovative part of MIGHTY APHRODITE is a Greek chorus that
appears frequently to give Lenny advice. The Greek chorus (Dick Hyman
Chorus) is lead by F. Murray Abraham and has Danielle Ferland as
Cassandra. The chorus is dressed in traditional robes and masks (by
Jeffrey Kurland) and is shown in an ancient Greek amphitheater.
Sometimes they start off with parts of what appears to be an Euripides
play, but soon they are speaking vintage Woody with words like
"unthunk" and bursting into song (including "When you're smiling") and
dance. For me, the chorus is one of the highlights of the show. It is
a fresh approach that is a lot of fun. One of my favorite characters
in the movie is Cassandra and her best piece of dialog is "I see
disaster. I see catastrophe. Worse, I see lawyers!" Another time,
the chorus calls on the great god Zeus to get advice, but gets his
answering machine instead.
The problem with MIGHTY APHRODITE is that it is like a first
grader learning to read. He pronounces each individual letter slowly
yet is unable to form them into a word. Here the dialog is great in
pockets, but there are no characters to care about to keep the
audience's interest in between humor. There are four or more putative
love stories in the movie, but none of them are believable. These
problems are mainly with Woody's direction and script, but the actors
own some of the blame.
Rapaport is pathetic and delivers a caricature of a dumb boxer.
He is an actor from MONEY FOR NOTHING and other films where he has yet
to demonstrate he has the chosen the right career path for himself.
Maybe he can box? Sorvino gave a fairly good performance as an
airhead, but Nicole Kidman in TO DIE FOR shows how this role can be
done much better. The biggest disappointment for me was Helena
Bonham-Carter (from many movies, but my favorite is LADY JANE). Her
love interest in fellow art gallery owner Jerry Bender (Peter Weller)
could have been much better developed and could have provided some real
tension and actual romance in the movie. Instead, most of the show is
played only for the cheap laughs. A real opportunity missed. Finally,
Woody is Woody, but a tired and sad looking Woody.
The sets by Santo Loquasto are pretty outlandish. The hooker's
apartment is decorated as a garden of pornographic kitsch. The
cinematography (Carlo DiPalma) is straightforward with the exception of
one wonderful scene at night of Lenny and Amanda in a New York City
taxicab. Lenny is unhappy with his marriage, and he looks at an
attractive and happy couple nearby with melancholy and wistful eyes.
These brief images form the best scene in the show.
MIGHTY APHRODITE only runs 1:30, but if the editor (Susan Morris)
had done a little tighter editing, perhaps she could have prevented the
show from dragging so often. The movie is rated PG-13 for extremely
explicit references to all kinds of bizarre sexual behavior. There is
no nudity or violence. The movie would be probably okay for mature
teenagers, but the dialog is laced with pornographic movie quality
rhetoric. For a great Greek chorus and for a lot of good laughs, I
give MIGHTY APHRODITE a mild thumbs up, but I was disappointed by it.
It had the potential for so much more. It gets ** 1/2 in my book.
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes