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Alex Carnevale

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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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« In Which We Are This Sort of Man »

Better Than How He Found Her


There is a rare delight in meeting the sort of man who proposes to 'educate' a woman. It is what Mr. Allen has no doubt done to women his entire life: he of the cinematic gesture and the proclivity for the young and the beautiful. When you meet a creature so endowed, a male can think only one thing, really: I must, must, must tell her what to think.

Men before Allen weren't very bright, or if they were very bright, they weren't exactly seduction machines. But time has given every measure of nerd the raw tools to foist his intellect upon women who don't know any better. This has created a bad situation for women, especially intelligent women, who often have to pretend to put up with such bullshit because they believe it is expected of them.

Lenny (Woody Allen) is such a foister. He's married to Amanda (Helena Bonham Carter) and he's a sportswriter. One part of that is a dream for him, and the other part is a nightmare. Can you guess which? Since his wife is a gorgeous gallery manager who doesn't want to kill nine months on her back in pregnancy, she wants to adopt. And so they do - a beautiful son Max who shares Lenny's interest in sports. Did he really want to adopt? Of course not, but like every parent, he is both delighted and dismayed by his decision.

He is delighted because Max is a smart and feeling boy who he couldn't love more, and he is dismayed because he wishes to know where this child who he loves comes from. He figures it out in short order. She's a whore.

Wait a damn minute! This is the kind of woman Lenny can't possibly deal with. Here are the sorts of women Lenny can handle:

— totally subservient women who admire him and don't call him a Jewface

— totally dominant women who remind him of his mother and make him socialize with intellectuals when he really wants to go to the Knicks game

A whore is categorically neither of these things. She may pretend to admire you, but she does not really admire you unless you're situated like Thomas Jane, and perhaps not even then. She may pretend to dominate you but really she's just dominating your wallet. Business is business, not love.

Confusing the two has become something a vocation for Woody, and it's tough to blame him in Mighty Aphrodite, because the street-smart Linda Ash, the mother of his son, is portrayed by Mira Sorvino. She blazes across the screen, a whimsical annoyingly accented Amazon of tits and ass. She oozes sex except when she's talking, and with her regular clients, she usually has something in her mouth.

Lenny wants her to talk, he wants to fix her, educate her, make the life of his son's mother better in every way than how he found her. Had he really thought this through, he would have never spoken to her, but if Woody doesn't exactly seem to master what drives women sometimes, he always knows what men are after.

Sorvino made herself a career with this role, in what eventually becomes a sort of tribute to the Pygmalion myth. Mighty Aphrodite is one of Woody's easiest forums for jokes, but it is also surprisingly tender. The heartbreaking final scene has become one of Woody's most famous, and the film is terrific, the centerpiece of his mid 90s run when he felt invigorated rather than stunted by his subject matter.

But we are more interested in why the Pygmalion myth spoke to Woody, and his use of a Greek chorus to set the action up is both inspired and telling. Woody loves the classics, enjoys watching them speak to us, and Pygmalion speaks louder than almost all. Allen is always trying to learn from something, and although Joan Didion might not appreciate that kind of curiosity, we can.

Lenny is trying to fix himself, and so goes around seeing what bothers him in the world and attempting to remedy it instead. He can't have a happy son and a generous wife: it's not that he needs to find something wrong with it, it's that he knows it's impossible on its face. He has never been a happy creature, so why should his characters be any different?

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He tumbls right here.

References (2)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
  • Response
    If you really like football, you most likely have a favored team from the National Football League or two and have a list of players who like to have seen.
  • Response
    Football is actually a single of the most significant sports in America. It has a key following.

Reader Comments (1)

I am probably also this kind of man

July 6, 2009 | Registered CommenterMolly

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