Beethoven was stone deaf when he wrote some of his most powerful music, including the Ninth Symphony. Akira Kurosawa, one of the best film directors who ever lived, was almost blind when he directed some of his best, most epic work. And has-been director Val Waxman (Woody Allen) is stricken with hysterical blindness just before starting filming of his comeback work.
There is a good movie somewhere in here, but Woody never found it. The scenes go on too long. There is one in a restaurant where he and his ex-wife (Téa Leoni, who I adore) are trying to discuss the film script, and he suddenly goes all Jeckyll and Hyde on her ass in the middle of a sentence, ranting about how she left him for an asshole. Then he abruptly is reasonable again, with no transition. It’s funny the first time, but he goes through the change four times. Twice would have been enough. Scene after scene is like that. And there is one supremely annoying thing he does over and over. Blundering around as a newly-blind man can be funny, but even in a comedy he should have improved a little over time. He never does. Not only that, but he never gets the hang of looking at where the sound is coming from. Unless you are deaf in one ear, you will quickly pick up on where a person is standing or sitting. Here, he stares witlessly in the same direction all the time. Try it yourself. Cover your eyes and listen to people talk. You won’t be able to make “eye contact,” but you will be able to face them within a few degrees. It is just stupid, and I’m astounded that Woody kept using a stupid joke like that.
Waxman manages to make it through the filming with almost no one figuring out that he’s blind, helped by Leoni and a translator for his baffled Chinese cameraman, but the footage he shoots is terrible. The film is a flop … except in France, which is funny.
I am going to be a script doctor and tell you exactly how this should have gone. First, cut about half an hour of dialogue. (His films are almost always around 80 to 90 minutes long; this one is almost two hours.) Lose the staring off into space stuff. All of it. Re-shoot those scenes. Now, what could have been … a blind film director is a great metaphor, and also could have been a great satire on the notion that great directors have “vision.” What if he shot the film … and it was good? Really, really good. Audiences love it, critics love it. (The French, of course, would hate it.) It proves that anybody could have shot the damn thing, it didn’t take a friggin’ genius. Do you see the comic possibilities in that? What do you do for an encore?
Just my idea, anyway.