Mighty Aphrodite (United States, 1995)
The film opens in an amphitheater in Greece, with an appropriately-garbed Greek chorus chanting of the deeds of Achilles and Oedipus. Suddenly, unexpectedly, the masked men and women decide to switch to the tale of Lenny Weinrib (Woody Allen) -- definitely not a name known from mythology. And, as things go from slightly absurd to completely ridiculous, the Chorus, led by F. Murray Abraham, say things like "Oh cursed fate! Some thoughts are better left unthunk!" and breaking into verses of "When You're Smiling." And all this is accomplished with an appropriate level of pomposity.
Mighty Aphrodite, Woody Allen's 1995 film, lacks the brilliance and hilarity of his two previous efforts (Manhattan Murder Mystery and Bullets Over Broadway), but it's not bad as a lightweight one-hundred minutes at the movies. Thematically, the film is pretty thin, unless you consider that everyone's life can resemble a Greek tragedy in one way or another. Allen appears determined to craft a motion picture that can be laughed at without plumbing any especially deep neuroses of the human condition.
The story opens with Lenny and wife Amanda (Helena Bonham Carter, sans period costumes and British accent) discussing adoption. Lenny doesn't want a child, but Amanda does, although she isn't willing to sacrifice a year of her life to have one the normal, biological way. Eventually, Lenny gives in and the couple gets a healthy male infant, whom they name Max. As the child grows and Amanda becomes more wrapped up in her attempts to procure her own art studio, Lenny fights a growing curiosity to learn more about his son's natural mother. Eventually, he sneaks a peek at the adoption agency's records. This leads to a meeting with Linda Ash (Mira Sorvino), the woman who gave birth to Max. Much to Lenny's dismay, she turns out to be a statuesque blond with a helium voice and little in the way of intelligence. Worse still is how she makes her living -- her dual career involves starring in porn films and turning $200 tricks for a bald-headed, homicidal pimp.
Woody Allen really only has one on-screen personality, and he plays it here as usual, although, at this point in his career, he's getting a bit old for roles better suited to someone twenty years his junior. Helena Bonham Carter, taking time out from Merchant/Ivory type productions, gives a snappy turn as a contemporary American woman. The only noticeable acting blot on Mighty Aphrodite is Michael Rapaport, who displays the same lack of range and energy he showed in Higher Learning.
The shining star is, without a doubt, Mira Sorvino (Amongst Friends, Barcelona), giving the finest performance of an as-yet short career. Since, in Bullets Over Broadway, Jennifer Tilly earned an Oscar nomination for an inferior portrayal of a character of similar intelligence, Sorvino deserves at least that much -- if not more. This is a star-making outing by one of America's top young actresses.
The most original element of Mighty Aphrodite is the use of the Greek Chorus. However, what starts out as a clever, innovative device quickly becomes tedious through overuse. The Chorus seems always to be on hand to make pithy remarks, and their presence becomes intrusive. At times, it's as if Woody Allen is attempting to take a page out of the Monty Python book, and those two very different styles of humor do not mix well.
While not up to the level of many of Allen's recent films, Mighty Aphrodite is nevertheless an entertaining diversion. The comedy, most of which is light and easily accessible, is worthy of some laughs, and the movie has a good sense of irony. Mighty Aphrodite is far from a tour de force, and some Woody Allen die-hards may be disappointed, but there's enough in this picture to recommend it.
Mighty Aphrodite (United States, 1995)
Cast: Woody Allen, Mira Sorvino, Helena Bonham Carter, Peter Weller, Michael Rapaport
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Cinematography: Carlo DiPalma
U.S. Distributor: Miramax Films