Woody Allen shows up at Amazon (September 30th) for a “series” that is really difficult to call anything but a movie chopped into six episodes, and the results are a bit mixed. If you’re an Allen fan, you have to take it in, just for his best moments, and an ending that harkens back to a bygone era of loopy situation construction.
Crisis in Six Scenes is almost over-dipped in Allen styling, and unfortunately feels like a script that had a few revisions to go. It’s hard to avoid being charmed by Allen, playing his usual “not-quite-everyman” who now gets to pile paranoia on top of his agitated neurotic shtick, but the show loses its focus and ability when he isn’t on screen.
Allen plays Sidney Muntzinger, a semi-successful author who lives with his wife, Kay (Elaine May), a marital counselor. It’s the ’60s, the Vietnam War, and its protests, are the only news worth knowing, and Sidney and Kay live in a house that everyone Sidney knows has probably described as “nice enough.”
The fun begins when Lenny Dale (Miley Cyrus) breaks into the house one night because her family took Kay in when Kay’s own parents died. Lenny is on the run for her violent protests against the war, and she needs a place to lie low. This naturally causes the turmoil Allen needs to riff off of, and most of the usual plot suspects make an appearance.
The film plods along through the first few episodes, apparently unsure of itself, or where it’s going, and at certain points you wouldn’t be surprised if it slipped into an homage to My Dinner with Andre, and you might be grateful if it did. The show slips easily into a comfortable Allen-esque routine when Sidney and Kay banter back and forth about the pros and cons of Lenny’s continued existence in their home, but Lenny offers little in the way of honest, developmental support.
It isn’t just that Miley Cyrus can’t deliver anything beyond what were apparently half-hearted script notes, because she clearly isn’t up to it, but she just isn’t given much to work with beyond an almost comically-dismissive version of a character written by someone with no real respect for the viewpoint they demand the character have. That is, if we believe the character isn’t meant to be a kind of comic straw man, built up on ignorant hyperbole and almost slapstick overenthusiasm just to goof on. Come to think of it…
Even beyond that, while you don’t like to weigh casting choices, there’s something off-putting about the poster child for consumer-culture idiocy run wild spitting out the dogma of the proletariat’s champion. Frankly, she delivers it with all the conviction of someone who might burst out laughing at any moment.
At any rate, Lenny obviously touches the lives of those she’s hiding out with, freaking out Sidney, raising questions for Kay, and influencing young Alan with her anti-joie de vivre.
The whole thing even spills over to Kay’s book club, who end up reading books recommended by Lenny, and Sidney never seems to get over the idea of Lenny’s eating the fig newtons, while simultaneously raging against the corporate machine keeping dumb shlubs like Sidney down, apparently by way of the mere existence of such things as fig newtons. You can probably feel Sidney’s pain.
The show stumbles almost endlessly because of Lenny, as I said, both in theory and execution, but more importantly because it all feels too rote for Allen. This is something he might have written on a napkin 50 years ago, and pulled out now to flesh out because he wasn’t especially moved by any other muse. It doesn’t give us real Allen material until it begins running headlong for the end, and by then it’s too little too late.
There’s nothing like Woody Allen when he’s on, and there are enough moments in this that it’s worth getting through, but there aren’t enough of them to live up to what you expect from him, and the whole isn’t quite as good as the sum of its parts.
Elaine May, on the other hand, is brilliant in virtually every moment, selling the Lenny influence wonderfully, and pulling together even the roughest scenes without ever quite coming all the way over to Allen’s scenery-chewing habit.
It’s a shame that this didn’t get a bit more attention to the foundations of the characters, especially because Allen’s latest films have all been solid efforts, but there’s enough for fans to enjoy another strange ride through Allen’s incessant chatter, and even the negatives only distract so much from the subtle joy of an aging couple realistically having their routine disrupted, even if that disruption isn’t exactly realistically portrayed.