Woody Allen probably doomed any chances that his new film “Wonder Wheel” could be considered on its own merit, after he told the BBC this weekend that he’s “sad” for disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and fears that his sexual assault controversy could lead to a “witch hunt-like atmosphere.”
Allen’s comments to the BBC about Weinstein were published Saturday and couldn’t come at a less opportune time for a director trying to promote his latest work, a 1950s period melodrama starring Kate Winslet as it premiered Saturday night at the New York Film Festival.
Over the prior 10 days, Weinstein had been accused by multiple A-list actresses and other women of rape, sexual assault or harassment. Weinstein has denied having non-consensual sex with any of his accusers.
On Saturday, Weinstein became the second person in Academy Awards history to be expelled from membership, with the organization saying it wanted to “send a message that the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over.”
Allen, meanwhile, has his own problemetic history with sexual assault allegations, having been accused, though never charged, of molesting his then 7-year-old daughter Dylan Farrow in the 1990s.
But Allen isn’t the only person associated with “Wonder Wheel” to be accused of sexually inappropriate behavior. Amazon Studios, which is distributing “Wonder Wheel,” suspended its president Roy Price over allegations he pressured a female Amazon executive for sex. The allegations also prompted Amazon to cancel its Saturday night red carpet for “Wonder Wheel,” which was the company’s first theatrical release, Deadline reported.
As all this was happening, BBC interviewed Allen and asked him about the Weinstein controversy.
“The whole Harvey Weinstein thing is very sad for everybody involved,” Allen said. “Tragic for the poor women that were involved, sad for Harvey that his life is so messed up. There’s no winners in that. It’s just very, very sad and tragic for those poor women that had to go through that.”
Allen had worked with Weinstein on a number of films, including the Oscar-winning “Mighty Aphrodite. Weinstein also is credited with reviving Allen’s career by producing 1994’s “Bullets Over Broadway” and calling him a “comic genius” after Allen was accused of abusing Dylan Farrow, his daughter with actress Mia Farrow. Allen has always strongly denied the accusations.
Allen added that he hoped the revelations would improve how society deals with sexual harassment in the workplace but warned against a “witch hunt.”
“You don’t want it to lead to a witch-hunt atmosphere, a Salem atmosphere, where every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer to defend himself,” he said. “That’s not right either. But sure, you hope that something like this could be transformed into a benefit for people rather than just a sad or tragic situation.”
Needless to say, Allen’s expressions of sympathy for Weinstein didn’t go over well, nor did his concerns about how other men’s actions would be perceived. Many on social media assumed he was worried about his own reputation.
Allen on Sunday tried to clarify his comments to the BBC about Weinstein, saying in a statement to Variety that he regards the producer as a “sad sick man,” not that he feels “sad” for him. Allen expressed surprise that people took his comments the wrong way.
But whatever. Even as Allen was digging a hole for himself over the Weinstein scandal — and trying to dig his way back out — “Wonder Wheel” was screened for critics, and things didn’t go too well.
The reaction was at best mixed, with reactions ranging from disgust to astonishment. The film currently has a 50 percent rating among critics on Rotten tomatoes.
If there was praise, it was mostly for Winslet’s performance and for cinematographer Vittorio Storaro.
The film stars Winslet as Ginny, a failed actress-turned-waitress in 1950s Coney Island who’s caught in a love triangle with a charming lifeguard and wanna-be writer, played by Justin Timberlake, and her husband’s estranged daughter, played by Juno Temple.
“Kate Winslet may have hit a new career high with ‘Wonder Wheel,'” tweeted critic Clayton Davis, adding she “wallops every scene with sheer ferocity.”
But Matt Neglia for NextBestPicture.com said that the only worthwhile quality of the film was the cinematography, while Vulture’s David Edelstein called the film “obvious and old hat,” as if Allen had discovered the script in an old file cabinet. Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson deemed it “a slight and clunky period piece” that is undermined by Allen’s “stilted, hoary script.”
The Daily Beast’s Kevin Fallon also addressed the “waning quality” of Allen’s writing in recent years. While he said Winslet is good in the movie, he said the rest of the movie is “such a mess.”
He also pointed out the elephant in the room, so to speak, with regard to some of the themes of the plot — a woman battling her stepdaughter for the affections of a man — that too closely mirror Allen’s own difficult personal history. Besides being accused of molesting one daughter, Allen left his long-time partner Mia Farrow to be with Farrow’s then 19-year-old adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, who was Allen’s stepdaughter. Fallon suggests it’s hard for a viewer to not make comparisons and enjoy the film on its own merit.
“Maybe it’s always a bad time to release a Woody Allen film with casual references to a father who might be sexually attracted to his daughter,” Fallon wrote.
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