APROPOS OF NOTHING by Woody Allen
Book reviewed by Lee Sobel
4 out of 5 stars
Before we talk about “the elephant in the room” where Woody Allen is concerned, let me state right up front that I am a fan of his movies. That was my primary motivation in wanting to read this book which Allen does a commendable job of breezing through tales of making 50+ feature films to date. He keeps it quick and always has something remarkable to tell about each film. He could have easily turned this into ten books with a chapter on each movie, but he made the choice to give you his entire life story in one gulp. I have to say I like that but when it comes to certain films, say, Annie Hall, I would have liked more.
What I find particularly interesting as a movie lover and as someone who has written and directed my own movies, is that Woody has always been focused on the work itself, which is why he has eschewed award shows and he never reads reviews of his movies — once a movie he has directed is completed, he moves
on to the next one and does not look back. He says that he does not keep any memorabilia from his movies and does not dwell in the past which is ironic since this book is essentially his exhuming his life as he has lived it. If you're a fan of his movies and you enjoy anecdotes about movies you like, this book is a lot of fun. For instance, did you know that Michael Keaton was originally cast in the role Jeff Daniels ended up playing in The Purple Rose of Cairo? Apparently Keaton didn't feel "period" enough for the movie, but there is one shot that remains in the movie that was in fact Keaton and not Daniels.
Where the book slows down is in two places: first, when it comes to the lawsuit he was forced to enact on Jean Doumanian who produced a number of Woody’s movies. It’s not that interesting except it does kind of foreshadow his bad luck at trusting people close to him that eventually betray him. Where the book really slows down is when it comes to the whole Mia Farrow debacle. Woody would have you thinking that Mia Farrow, the woman he was in love with and starred in many of his movies, is crazy and was abusive to some of her children (Woody claims that she was much more attentive to her biological kids than the ones she adopted). In all, Mia Farrow has 14 children, 10 of them adopted, and a few of them committed suicide. Did Woody molest his daughter Dylan which Mia claimed in their custody battle that played out in the media and that Woody and his son Moses claimed Mia coached her daughter at age seven to say Woody did it? The whole thing is just too ugly to contemplate. Do I feel sympathy for him as a victim? Not a chance. Come on, Woody, you should not have been having an affair with Mia’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi while you were still in a relationship with Mia and were making the movie Husbands and Wives that you and Mia starred in at the same time. Also dumb: why did you feel the need to document your bedroom scenes with Soon-Yi via polaroid pictures and why would you be dumb enough to leave any of them lying around where Mia could find them? Soon-Yi was not adopted by Woody and Mia - she was adopted by Mia when she was previously married to Andre Previn, who she stole from Previn's wife Dory who Previn was married to when he got Mia pregnant with twins (is this sounding like a bad soap opera, or what?). But, Woody, why? Why Soon-Yi? He seems to justify it by the fact that he’s now been married to Soon-Yi for twenty years and they have kids together.
The tale of how this book came to be published is drama within itself. Woody and Mia’s son Ronan Farrow and adopted daughter Dylan managed to get the original publisher that bought the book to drop it. Ronan (nee Satchel, named by Woody after the baseball player Satchel Paige) also blew the whistle on Harvey Weinstein and helped to inspire the #MeToo movement. In the book, Woody Allen discusses the fact that Mia Farrow believed Ronan needed to be taller and had his legs broken and surgically lengthened. Woody has not seen his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow in decades and she still asserts that she was molested by Woody Allen. Another publisher picked up the rights to this book and released it. Allen has continued to make movies but it's become more and more of a challenge as numerous actors he has approached to work with him have declined because they fear a backlash from the movie industry.
I enjoyed the book but I kept thinking about that cliché: there are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth. Well, this is Woody's story and while it's an enjoyable read, I found his constantly playing the humility card a bit phony. Why is it when people are accused of being monsters they never acknowledge that maybe there is the slightest truth to those accusations? Am I really to believe that someone so criticized by family members is completely and totally innocent? Couldn't he have at least admitted that shacking up with Soon-Yi while still in a relationship with Mia was a tad insensitive and maybe even inappropriate? I realize that a lot of people who have loved Woody's movies probably will not buy this book and probably don't see his new movies because they are creeped out by him. I get it. But you can't take away how I feel about Annie Hall, Manhattan and so many other great movies Woody Allen made that entertained me. The End.