Mighty Aphrodite

Mighty Aphrodite


Reviewed by: James Benefield

One of the first nails in the coffin of Woody Allen’s genius, Mighty Aphrodite is an odd mishmash of classical allusion, mid-life crises, neuroses and commentary on parenthood.

Narrated by a Greek chorus (which includes Amadeus’ F Murray Abraham), we watch Woody Allen’s Lenny adopt a child with wife Amanda (Helena Bonham Carter). It doesn’t take long before the ever questioning, neurotic Lenny attempts to seek out the baby’s biological mother. Her identity is a surprise; Linda Ash (Mira Sorvino) is a wannabe actress who is moonlighting as a hooker and a porn star until she gets her big break.

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The film works as well as it does due to Sorvino’s central performance. She’s wide-eyed, full of energy and invests some individuality in the hackneyed ‘hooker with a heart’ part. She’s a strong presence, despite Allen’s broad, slightly patronising, brushstrokes (his depiction of the social divide between his sportswriter and Sorvino’s hooker verges on the embarrassing).

Yet, she is just a detail on Allen’s map of middle-aged crisis. Lenny argues with the chorus, trying to regain control of the film’s narrative. He is drawn to Linda, but does not want to consummate the attraction due to his marriage and, in his eyes, Linda’s mother-like status. He wrings his hands throughout. He has the world on his shoulders, yet is completely unlikable throughout.

Even by Allen’s standards it’s an incredibly solipsistic spin on a tale that has undercurrents of the exploitation and oppression of women, failing relationships and the pitfalls of parenthood. The topics are abandoned and ignored in favour of Lenny's attempts to feel better about himself. It’s an apology for selfishness; Lenny goes as far as setting up Linda on dates in the film’s increasingly unfocused second half, rather than spending time with his wife and (little seen) child.

Despite the cute touch of the Greek Chorus, a smattering of funny lines and Sorvino’s excellent performance, Mighty Aphrodite is a confused, cynical, jaded and messy affair. The film fails to decide what it's about, and inflicts on its audience an increasingly unlovable protagonist who manages an irony-free happy ending despite a series of callous actions throughout the film’s length. A problematic movie.

Reviewed on: 10 Jan 2010
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A sports writer goes looking for the sex worker birth mother of his adopted son.
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