Mighty Aphrodite

Mighty Woody

Paula Nechak

Woody Allen gets a woody in Mighty Aphrodite, the beginning of his verbal dirty old man phase. Woody has always been pristine about sex and though his movies are fringed with it - indeed they're about little else - this is the first film in which he is well, so upfront and blatant about it. There might be an occasional "fuck" or reference to infidelity in his characters - they all do it, but the main focus is talking about it and in Mighty Aphrodite he gives us a character who does little else but pepper a clean sentence with "dick" and "dildo" and "blowjob" some thousand times over. This is the Woodman's bid to belong in the changing cinematic world, and, surprise, he's fashioned a romantic and bittersweet fable about chance and romance.

Nobody but Woody Allen could place a Greek chorus morality gauge in his film, segue to the classical allusions, and make them work. This chorus, led by F. Murray Abraham, with Olympia Dukakis as Jocasta and David Ogden Stiers as Laius are smarter than the contemporary characters. They observe chastely the sexual opportunity that presents itself to married couple Amanda (Helena Bonham Carter) and Lenny (Woody Allen). When this ambitious and capable pair, chafing at a critical point in their union, decide to adopt a newborn little boy, they never imagine the ramifications.

Lenny, noting as the years pass that their little son is brilliant, embarks on a quest to find the birth parents. He is stunned to discover the mother is a hooker-porno-actress, Linda or "Judy Cum" (Mira Sorvino), who is as over-compensated in sexual appeal as she is under-compensated in self-esteem and smarts. Lenny decides to help the young woman, who really wants a chance to change careers and lifestyle. Lenny and Amanda drift apart, and a smarmy gallery owner, Jerry (Peter Weller), who presides over the Soho scene as a self-appointed hand of God, begins to woo Amanda.

Allen seems to believe we all have the impulse to behave in this fashion, to act as God would act, to divine and alter fate. But he is pragmatic enough in his romanticism to know that the powers that be will continually best us in our efforts. It finally comes to light that Woody's heart, and probably not his - oops - is very, very big.