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Allen's Sombre Human Study,
This review is from: September [DVD] (DVD)
Woody Allen's Bergmanesque study of human relationships, his 1987 film September, is, even at its relatively short duration of 79 minutes, at times, quite hard going. Despite many creditworthy acting performances, for me, the film drags, particularly during the middle third, and it is only towards the end that, due to the late plot twists and accompanying dramatic scenes, the film is just about lifted into four star territory.
Set in the leafy surrounds of Vermont, but not leaving the confines of a single house setting, Allen's film is an at times claustrophobic study of the lives, loves, frustrations, etc, of six main characters. These comprise best friends Lane (Mia Farrow) - who is recuperating at the house from a failed suicide attempt - and Stephanie (Dianne Wiest), Lane's mother Diane (Elaine Stritch) and stepfather Lloyd (Jack Warden), and Lane/Stephanie's romantic acquaintances, budding writer Peter (Sam Waterson) and teacher Howard (Denholm Elliot). For me, the film sits somewhere between Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party (but much less scathingly funny) and a film like Joanna Hogg's Archipelago (but with Allen's film containing slightly more dramatic developments!).
Don't get me wrong, September certainly has its plus points. Chief among them is the film-stealing acting performance delivered by Elaine Stritch. In her depiction of the outwardly blustering and self-confident, but also self-doubting, Diane, she is very impressive. Also outstanding are Jack Warden, providing yet another brilliant screen turn as the cowering husband Lloyd , and great British stalwart Denholm Elliot playing the rebuffed, elder paramour, Howard. Mia Farrow and Dianne Wiest are also reliably solid in their parts, but, for me, were much more impressive, in the similar, but meatier, roles that Allen cast them in for the superior Hannah And Her Sisters.
This highlights the main shortcoming of the film for me. Namely, September again explores many of Allen's trademark preoccupations, including guilt, ageing, jealousy, unrequited love, nostalgia and (even) existentialism. But for me these themes are explored more compellingly in his other films, such as the aforementioned Hannah And Her Sisters, Stardust Memories, Another Woman and Crimes And Misdemeanours.
As you may have gathered, the usual Allen one-liners are few and far between. Unsurprisingly, they are reserved for Stritch, who, in response to daughter Lane's bemoaning of her unfulfilled ambitions, quips reassuringly, 'You're young, you're lovely - of course you dress like a Polish refugee'.
The other notable fact about the film was that Allen shot it twice, first with a cast including Sam Shepard, Maureen O'Sullivan and Charles Durning, before deciding that this original casting was unsuitable.
In summary, not one of Allen's greatest, but certainly worth a viewing.