Movie Notes: Bullets Over Broadway
= 5 stars
Starring John Cusack, Dianne Wiest, Jennifer Tilly
Directed by Woody Allen
1920s playwright David Shayne (John Cusack) is forced to cast ditsy mob moll Olive (Jennifer Tilly) in his play, funded by gangsters.
- David (Jon Cusack) is a great Allen doppelganger, quite credible as a whiny director despite a completely different physical appearance, mostly because he’s always been a big dork every since Better Off Dead. Diane Wiest is awesome as Helen St. Claire, a boisterious prima donna, quite the opposite of the insecure Holly from Hannah And Her Sisters. Also contrasting is the dumb-as-bricks, talentless Olive (Jennifer Tilly). The two leading ladies’ conflict is a little like Margo from All About Eve meeting Lina Lamont from Singin’ In The Rain. Watching Cusack squirm as he tries to juggle the pair is classic, hilarious stuff.
- Elements of previous work is more successful here: it’s a period piece like Purple Rose of Cairo, with mob elements from Broadway Danny Rose. Characters contemplate the meaning of art (Stardust Memories). But in almost every way it’s more epic, with bolder contrasts, most clearly due to the introduction of the dangerous mob. Eventually, there is gunplay, which happens at just the right moment.
- Brisk, tight pacing. Before we know it, the play is underway, the conflict defined, and then we wonder how the heck David will get out of this muddle alive.
- The play-within-a-movie plot ads another layer of entertainment, as it provides a bunch of nutty, colorful actors, namely Tracey Ulmann, and Jim Broadbent as an closet overeater.
- Olive’s mob chaperone Cheech (Chaz Palminteri) adds commentary on the nature of the artist. He dislikes David’s writing and starts offering improvements – which are really good. How this situation resolves is yet another joy to watch, as Cheech decides art is more important than life itself.
- The subplot of David falling for Helen and conflict with his wife (Mary-Louise Parker) is a bit awkward, despite a touching conclusion. It’s by now a predictable cliche that someone in an Allen movie embarks on an ill-advised affair.
Through contemplating the nature of true talent, the ups and downs of the creative process, and refreshing performances by Cusack and Wiest, Bullets Over Broadway ultimately won me over and proves to be a real gem.
Next Woody Allen Movie: Mighty Aphrodite
Previous Woody Allen Movie: Manhattan Murder Mystery
IMDB: Bullets Over Broadway
Wikipedia: Bullets Over Broadway
Rotten Tomatoes: Bullets Over Broadway 96%