As for what was sown among thorns, this is
the one who hears the word, but the cares of
the world and the lure of wealth choke the word,
and it yields nothing.
The characters in this ensemble cast film are largely the “thorny ground” described by Jesus in his parable of the Sower and the Seeds. Most are “nice,” but so centered on their own wants and needs that few of them will pro duce much of a crop.
Woody Allen’s new film is a far cry from the glorious days of Crimes and Misdemeanors, Broadway Danny Rose, or Hannah and Her Sisters, and yet he has crammed it with zingy lines that come close to those in the director’s vintage films. No longer exploring theological questions, as in Crimes, Allen tackles smaller concerns, such as poking fun at our celebrity cult and love of pretension and culture. The first concerns mild mannered businessman Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) who one morning as he leaves for work finds himself besieged by reports and paparazzi. This happens over the next few days whenever he appears in public, with no one answering his questions of why he is now famous, of what he has done to draw such frenzied attention. Apparent answer, as with far too many Americans in real life, he is famous for being famous.
The second funny sequence involves Allen’s character Jerry, who has flown into the Eternal City with his wife Phyllis (Judy Davis) because their daughter Hayley (Alison Pill) plans to marry Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti). The latter’s father Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato), an undertaker, has a beautiful operatic voice. When former music promoter Jerry hears the man singing in the shower he is convinced that he could make the man a star. However, when the very reluctant Giancarlo sings before a panel, he performs poorly. And yet back home in the shower he again sings magnificently. Thus Jerry conceives of having his new client sing from a shower set up on stage. Despite the unorthodox set-up (not so outlandish for Jerry, the guy who once staged Rigoleto with the characters dressed in white mice costumes!), Giancarlo is a hit this time. The only criticism in the review is of “the idiot” who placed the singer in the shower. Fortunately Jerry cannot read Italian, so his future son-in-law omits reading him that part of the review.
There are several other characters I haven’t mentioned played by Greta Gerwig, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Penelope Cruz, and Alec Baldwin appears, assuming the role of an entire Greek chorus for one character. Aside from poking fun at a few of our foibles, this is pretty light Woody Allen. And the sexual mores of several of the married characters is no better than the filmmaker’s own history,
1. Which character appeal to you? What is it about them that makes this so?
2. What seem to be their values? Do any rise above hedonism? How is “pleasure” used as an excuse for adultery?
3. What truth do you see in the sequence in which Leopoldo becomes famous? What American celebrities would you place alongside Leopoldo? What is the basis for so many people seeking to be a celebrity? What have you heard a truly talented person say about being a celebrity? Something they really want, or something thrust upon them?
4. Jerry’s projects, such as his opera with characters dressed as white mice, is delightfully absurd—and yet how is it a telling commentary on some of the things that people pass off as art?
5. Which, if any, of the characters would you consider as “good soil” ?