Alice (1990) / Comedy-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language
Running Time: 102 min.

Cast: Mia Farrow, William Hurt, Joe Mantegna, Keye Luke, Blythe Danner, Alec Baldwin, Cybill Shepherd, Judy Davis, Bernadette Peters, Julie Kavner (cameo), Rachel Miner (cameo), Elle Macpherson (cameo), Bob Balaban (cameo), James McDaniel (cameo)
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Review published January 29, 2007

Alice Tate (Farrow, Crimes and Misdemeanors) is a well-to-do Manhattan housewife who is irresistibly drawn to another parent who brings his child to her school, Joe the sax player (Mantegna, House of Games), who finds himself also unable to walk away from an unhappy marriage.  She begins to develop aches and pains, for which she sees an Asian herb and hypnosis specialist, Dr. Yang (Luke, Gremlins 2), who informs her that her pain is not physical, but rather, it is manifested from her mind and heart.  The herbs Dr. Yang prescribes seem to do the trick, as Alice is able to do and see wonderful things, such as lose her inhibitions, make any man fall madly in love with her, and give her the ability to see without being seen.  However, as she begins to know too much, she begins to question not only her current marriage, but also the worthiness of pursuing her affair, and stuck at a middle-age crossroads, she is desperately uncertain of what to do with the rest of her life that will bring her happiness.

Alice is one of Woody Allen's (Radio Days, Broadway Danny Rose) films that satisfies more for the cumulative effect of precious little moments than it does as a larger story.  It is sporadic in nature, with seemingly random turns of events, but the sheer inventiveness of Allen's imagination keeps the meager storyline buoyant and lively.  There are moments where you can't help but smile, such as Alice's nonchalant way of asking for a peace pipe to smoke, herbs that end up ruining a party when they are mistaken for an eggnog spice, and Dr. Yang's barking at Alice while referring to her (and himself) in the third person.  The scene where Alice is visited by the specter of Ed (Baldwin, The Hunt for Red October), a deceased early flame, is especially touching and sentimental in execution.

Although Alice stays light and frothy throughout, the film is really about a woman's self-discovery.  Alice is restless and discontent with her life, constantly doing things like shopping (she has hundreds of pairs of shoes) and decorating in order to fill the vacuum that is her life while her husband (Hurt, Broadcast News) spends long hours with work (among other extracurricular activities).  Just as she doesn't realize the source of her physical pain, so too is she unaware of what's wrong with her personal life, and when she is given the power of self-reflection, she is able to see all of the things she has been missing and subconsciously yearns for.

In Allen's filmography, Alice is one of his more forgotten gems, perhaps because the story of a someone stuck in a loveless marriage who wakes up when she discovers new spark has been a common theme in his work (The Purple Rose of Cairo does the same but better).  Slight though it may be, it's a breeze to watch, and with such rich characters and a constant array of funny situations for our neurotic heroine, it's fun to watch Alice react to each new set of circumstances.  It's not really as much of a laugher as Allen's finest, but it is certainly a smiler; it's so whimsical, one can't help but find it endearingly amusing.  I don't often praise a film for its delightfulness, but in the case of Alice, it's the most fitting compliment that comes to mind.

 Qwipster's rating:

2007 Vince Leo