Crisis in Six Scenes full movie review - Woody's funniest since Whatever Works; know what to expect
You know, I think Woody Allen went into this with both the right and wrong approach. What you end up with via his first foray into a "series", for Amazon specifically, is not something that would make for good TV one week after the next.
Matter of fact, this is not even really a series, with the exception of 'Episode 5', that usually requires that you leave off at the end of an episode with some kind of suspense or at best a cliffhanger (unless it's more self-contained like Curb Your Enthusiasm or Louie or something). It has the feel of being a feature film - Allen's longest if you put it altogether in his 50 years of filmmaking at 142 minutes - that is cut up into six parts. Even the title sounds lazy in its way that it doesn't describe anything about it except, well, it's a 'Crisis'. But more than that, I think critics especially hoped for Allen to use the form of a series to be ambitious, to try something really new, to perhaps go deeper in a medium where, at least supposedly (what do I know about new TV except, uh, 83,000 shows that are blowing people's minds right now on streaming video and/or cable), an artist can go wherever he/she desires.
So what does Woody do? Kind of a broad political comedy (though I haven't seen it, the only one of his actually, I've heard Don't Drink the Water sort of has this tone) about a, surprise, nebbish-like novelist and therapist (Allen and Elaine May, nice to see her again), and the wackiness the ensues when an acquaintance of May's, a revolutionary-anti-war-Marxist-Maoist-you-name-it type, played by Miley Cyrus, comes to their home to stay low. The wackiness isn't entirely hyperbole; this is Allen going for comedy in such a way I haven't seen in a while, going full throttle for line-quip-line-quip at times like it's a ping-pong match, though at other times characters get to develop like the friend of the family also living with Allen and May who falls for Cyrus and all of her political hype with it (though he's engaged to someone else).
In other words, this is not Allen stretching so much as going back to something a bit familiar... though in a way, not at the same time. What impresses me the most here are two things: first, that Allen, for the first time in I can't remember when, is delivering a performance that's right for his age (he's finally playing... old, not trying to be with some younger woman - same with To Rome with Love, but nevermind that), and it's a fully-formed character and performance as a guy with a lack of confidence but always with a streak of indignation, fear and sarcasm ("To you guys, opium is the opium of the masses," is one such line he throws at Cyrus' character). So I was happy to see, maybe for the first time consistently since the 90's (maybe Deconstructing Harry) I've really liked an Allen performance.
The second thing is... it's funny. Very funny, like, laughing consistently and HARD at many of the lines and how far Allen goes as a writer for certain scenarios. For example, Kay has a book club full of little old ladies and suburban house-wives and the like, super-upper-middle class, and when she starts to bring books that Lennie (Cyrus) brings to her to read - Mao's little red book mainly - Allen builds on one funny reaction upon another, each fairly clueless and aloof (one of them has the takeaway that the book is useful because of its message about foot-binding!) In that sense, as well as in that colossal "Episode 6" when it turns into something like out of a cross between the everybody-stuffs-in-the-room in A Night at the Opera crossed with the "Gub" bit from Take the Money and Run - over-stuffed, awkward and uncomfortable, one thing going to another - Allen actually IS trying here. It's just not what people might expect.
It's someone who is an old pro at the kind of comedy that Woody Allen's done for an entire career, but playing a little with the form. I think the issue is that it's for the first half kind of shallow enjoyment, like it's not too deep, it's more about the pleasure of seeing two players like Allen and May (with great comic timing and simply a believable pairing), and with Cyrus who comes into her own after a shaky start. It's hard at first, at least it was for me, to see her as someone not Miley Cyrus. But she finds the character soon enough and more than holds her own - she commands certain scenes away and takes Allen's dialog and gets a lot of laughs on her own.
So will everyone enjoy it the same? It may depend on what you expect, though for someone just coming to this cold, like you happen to see it on Amazon and think 'Huh, interesting enough', Allen sets up everyone and plays in such a way that it works for the casual viewers too looking for some laughs out of character that comes out of dialog. I'm basically happy that Allen decided to have fun; only if he had stretched a little more, perhaps taken fuller advantage of what a SERIES has to offer (not to mention with budget, occasionally it looks cheap and sometimes, painfully, not "60's") as opposed to making a longer film and cutting it up, he might have one of his best works of the decade. As it stands between this and Cafe Society, he's had a very good year for "minor" tier Woody, which is fine by me.