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Tightrope-Walking Cynical Humanist: On Recent Woody Allen

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Tightrope-Walking Cynical Humanist: On Recent Woody Allen
Tightrope-Walking Cynical Humanist: On Recent Woody Allen

There have been complaints that the Woody Allen of the ’00s does not live up to the Woody Allen of the ’70s or ’80s. But there are four moments (thematic footfalls) that prove him to be just as he’s always been—the rarest and greatest of tightrope-walking cynical humanists.

The Dueling Tongues

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion is set in 1940 (the same year that His Girl Friday and its faster-than-bullets/sharper-than-knives dialogue was released) and contains some of the outwardly meanest dialogue Allen has ever written. C.W. (Allen) and Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt), warring employees at an insurance firm, trade insults set to a rapid metronome that sometimes falters when it comes time for C.W. to shoot. The slight pauses and stutters between retorts offer light into the crevices of his personality. It’s the central condition of the Allen character (be it played by Allen or a surrogate), the quick-witted egoist who, when it really comes down to it, is shivering with insecurity. Whereas Grant and Russell’s dueling tongues send confident and strident sparks, Allen’s words are reluctant, gripping onto his vocal cords for an extra moment before being forced out. His is a cinema populated with men who wince as they unload the barrels of their mouths.