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Woody Allen
Woody Allen, Mira Sorvino, Helena Bonham Carter, Peter Weller, Michael Rapaport
Woody Allen

Rated R for language and sex-related material.

Academy Awards:
Won for Best Actress-Mira Sorvino.
Nominated for Best Screenplay.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Digital Mono
English; Closed-captioned

Runtime: 95 min.
Price: $29.95
Release Date: 5/18/1999

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Mighty Aphrodite (1995)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

While Woody Allen achieved no Oscar victories for himself during the Nineties, his actors got some awards attention. To be fair, the Woodman did get nominated a number of times, but he took home no prizes. His performers also received a few nominations, but only a couple of them departed the ceremonies with trophies. Dianne Wiest snagged a Best Supporting Actress bauble for her wonderfully hammy turn in 1994’s Bullets Over Broadway, and Mira Sorvino did the same a year later for Mighty Aphrodite.

I wish that I could indicate that I agreed with the Academy’s appraisal of Sorvino’s work, but unfortunately I can’t. In fact, if asked to find something positive to say about any part of Mighty Aphrodite, I come up short. It stands as one of the most grating pieces Allen ever committed to film.

Aphrodite follows Lenny Weinrib (Allen) and his wife Amanda (Helena Bonham-Carter), a couple going through some rough times in regard to their relationship. Their sex life is suffering, and they seem very disconnected. Eventually they decide to adopt a child, and they get a bright and vivacious boy they name Max (played by a few youngsters, but Jimmy McQuaid handles most of the work). His presence adds some meaning to their relationship, but Lenny becomes obsessed with finding the boy’s biological parents. He can’t understand who would give up such a fine child, so he attempts to locate his mother. After using some sneaky means, he gets the name of the mother, though finding her is anything but simple.

After much detective work, eventually he does so. Linda Ash (Sorvino) turns out to be an aspiring actress who dabbles in porn films and also works as a prostitute. Despite those career choices, she seems like a bright and bubbly personality with little ill will, and Lenny immediately takes a liking to her. Actually, it appears pretty clear that he has a crush on her, but he’s unable to go beyond some vague feelings.

Most of the film follows their relationship, and Lenny also attempts to “save” Linda from her life of whoredom. She’s had incredibly bad luck with men, so he tries to set her up with a winner and picks aspiring boxer Kevin (Michael Rapaport). The rest of the film watches this relationship and also shows what happens with the leads.

I suppose that Aphrodite really wasn’t a terrible movie as a whole. Many Allen stories possessed the potential to offer compelling tales, and the same applied to it. The basic plot was sound, and the burgeoning relationship between Lenny and Linda merited attention.

However, Allen thrust his pretensions to the fore, and these combined with some additional factors to undermine the film. For one, in the movie’s greatest misstep, Allen insisted on using an actual Greek chorus to vocally influence Lenny throughout the flick. When I say “actual Greek chorus”, I mean that the actors were dressed in period garb and used in a classical fashion.

This concept started as annoying and got worse from there. I can think of few movie gimmicks that came across as more pretentious and obnoxious. The chorus added absolutely nothing to the film and only made it painful to watch. I cringed every time these actors re-entered the scene; they took Aphrodite down many pegs.

Not that it would have been terribly intriguing nonetheless, partially due to the actors. On the positive side, Allen seemed a bit more restrained and likable than usual, as he kept his mass of tics and neuroses under control for the most part. In addition, Michael Rapaport appeared reasonably effective as Kevin; the character was saddled with too many awkwardly written dumb guy gags, but Rapaport created a decent sense of personality nonetheless.

Unfortunately, the two female leads caused some problems. I have no idea how Sorvino won an Oscar for her performance as Linda; the voters must have been too busy staring at her admittedly lovely body to notice what an annoying character she created. Granted, I tended to root for Linda, if just because she seemed like a nice person, but Sorvino played her in such a mannered and self-conscious way that I never really bought her in the role. That cartoony voice she adopted really harmed the character as well; her vocal intonations made it impossible for us to see Linda as a real person.

Still, at least Sorvino wasn’t saddled with the role of Amanda. Bonham-Carter featured an unconvincing American accent as she poured on the bohemian attitude. Before long, I found it impossible to believe that anyone could ever have liked this annoying woman. Allen’s featured a lot of obnoxious artsy types in his films, but Amanda may take the prize as the most horrible of the bunch.

As with many Allen films, Mighty Aphrodite had some potential but it collapsed due to the execution. Allen saddled the flick with too many self-consciously gimmicky ideas, and the story couldn’t survive the weight of these notions. In the end, Aphrodite became nothing more than yet another missed opportunity.

The DVD Grades: Picture C- / Audio C / Bonus F

Mighty Aphrodite appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite a few attractive scenes, most of Aphrodite looked decidedly weak.

Sharpness generally looked reasonable concise and distinctive, but a variety of problems surrounded this department. The movie suffered from an excessively digital appearance, and this involved a number of concerns. Edge enhancement offered a major problem at times, and this caused other issues. In addition to the standard haloes that result from this distortion, the movie presented some harsh jagged edges and some bad moiré effects; in particular, blinds tended to strobe heavily. The edge enhancement also caused some wide shots to look a little soft.

Print flaws offered additional issues. Light grain appeared at times, and a variety of other problems occurred. These included streaks, grit, speckles, and a hair or two. The movie didn’t present an overwhelming array of defects, but they seemed more prevalent than one would expect from a fairly recent film.

Colors tended to appear somewhat bland and muddy. They presented reasonable accuracy during exteriors, but indoors shots came across as fairly drab and flat. At best, the colors were good, but they often fell short of that level. Black levels appeared pretty deep and rich, though, and shadow detail looked appropriately heavy but not excessively thick. In the end, Mighty Aphrodite occasionally presented some very nice visuals, largely during exterior shots; those kept my picture grade from falling into “D” territory. However, the flaws greatly outweighed the positives, and as a whole, this was a pretty unappealing image.

With Mighty Aphrodite, we discover yet another Woody Allen film with a monaural soundtrack. The DVD offered a typical presentation for one of his flicks. Speech came across as pretty warm and natural, and I heard no problems related to edginess or intelligibility. Effects tended to be a bit flat and lifeless, and they offered somewhat thin dynamic range, but they appeared acceptably accurate and showed no signs of distortion.

As with many Allen films, Aphrodite featured older jazz compositions for its score, and it mixed older recordings with more modern ones. The former appeared fairly thin and brittle, but the latter demonstrated decent clarity and dimensionality. Some of the songs showed boomy but passable bass response, and the music as a whole was acceptably solid. Overall, this was another bland but workable Allen soundtrack.

Another hallmark of Allen DVD stems from the extras, or lack thereof. Mighty Aphrodite offers fewer than usual, as it doesn’t even bother with a trailer. Weak!

The same sentiment applies to the film itself, as I thought Mighty Aphrodite was one of the least compelling Woody Allen efforts I’ve seen. The movie itself had some potential, but it became bogged down in annoying characterizations and gimmicky techniques. The DVD suffered from a fairly ugly picture along with bland sound and no supplements. Perhaps some Allen diehards will endorse Mighty Aphrodite, but I thought it was a fairly bad film.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0277 Stars Number of Votes: 36
4 3:
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