Woody Allen's barbed fairy tale

March 12, 1991

Alice

Written and directed by Woody Allen

Starring Mia Farrow

Alice is a whimsical comic fantasy about a very rich New Yorker who finds her life and her relationships unfulfilling, her frustrations manifesting themselves in a back ache.

The film is a tongue-in-cheek fairy tale. This is emphasised by the exaggerated colour of the settings and the caricaturising of many of the characters. While the story slides effortlessly in and out of the impossible, it never becomes escapist or ridiculous. It's just a delightfully different angle from which to view Alice's world.

A Chinese herbalist diagnoses the mental cause of her physical anxiety and proceeds to help her cure herself. His prescriptions range from opium to invisibility, and in her exploration of these packages of herbal experience, Alice is able to begin exploring the previously uncharted depths of her self.

Through Alice's journey of self-discovery, the film makes humorous digs at Catholicism, the family and, inevitably in a Woody Allen film, sexual neuroses.

The prime target of Allen's caustic wit, however, is wealthy New York society. Its smug self-indulgence is mocked hilariously, the doggies' hairdressers scene being a classic example, in which Alice's angst is set, rather fittingly, amidst preened poodles.

Allen's barbs against this elite society, however, are counterpoint to real disgust at the horrible hypocrisy of New York's filthy rich, typified by William Hurt's petty, supercilious husband to Mia Farrow's Alice.

Mia Farrow is marvellous as Alice, drawing an almost reluctant sympathy from the viewer. Her gradual evolution throughout the film is a delight to watch.

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