Movie Review: Alice (1990)

Entertaining film of troubles with the gilded cage, by Woody Allen
Reviewed by Brian R. Wright  ________________ Rating 9/10

Set in the posh East Side/Fifth Avenue world of wealth and youth, Alice (Mia Farrow) has been married to Doug (William Hurt), a millionaire businessman, for 15 years. They have two kids, with a nanny, and live in what looks like a $5,000 to $10,000 per month apartment. After having the chauffeur drop off her kids at the elite private school, Alice basically spends her weekdays in an epicurean montage: manicures, pedicures, hair styling, massage, acupuncture, shopping, gossiping with her similarly situated girlfriends.

What instigates her initial discomfort is a back ache that won’t go away. One of her friends recommends a Chinese ‘herbalist,’ a Dr. Yang (Keye Luke) , who serves more as a psycho-therapist and deliverer of tough love… in conjunction with ‘natural substances’ to cure the various dramas that are Alice’s unfulfilled life. She starts with something that opens her up emotionally and sensually toward an apparently single man, Joe (Joe Montegna), she finds attractive who brings his child to the same school that Alice’s kids attend. Good writing, and very good acting—I consider Alice to be a major tour de force of Mia Farrow’s career. She’s simply magnificent, and hilarious, as the dominating presence in her initial conver-sation with Joe, which moves the relationship to the next step.

So much more, as Alice starts to break out of her shell and leaves behind her insecurities, seen in her various relationships…with Joe, of course, but also with her first love Ed (Alec Baldwin—quite the handsome stud in 1990), her sister Dorothy (Blythe Danner), a woman friend Nancy Brill (Cybill Shepherd) who has ‘made it’ as a TV executive and to whom Alice goes to to propose a writing project, and so forth. All these relationships are drawn finely and fittingly into the general plot of Alice trying to find fulfillment away from the superficial life that she knows she’s leading but is afraid to let go of.

Will she or won’t she? This is a very loving movie and you can see how Woody Allen is giving it everything he’s got. Every character is exactly manifested, and every motivation starkly, though never brutally, exposed. No writer/director in my experience can weave a story’s multiple human threads apart then back together so seamlessly. Alice is a true masterpiece of film making, and should have been much more appreciated by the critics and at the box office. It presents THE universal adult problem: do what you love or do what others expect of you? Especially if choosing the former means a huge cut in the finances.

The 2019 Academy Awards (for 2018 films) are coming up this Sunday. Several years ago, I believe it was, Matt Damon who said, “Films should really be allowed to age four years before they are submitted for public award.” I’d say four years is a minimum. Alice is every bit the award-worthy film as Allen’s Annie Hall (1977), which won an Oscar for best picture, best director, and best leading actress (Diane Keaton). Fire Alice up on the DVD player or network download next chance you get, you won’t be disappointed. At 29 years, it has aged into Oscar territory. Plus it’s one of Woody’s “funny movies,” though more cos-mically so, from start to finish.

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