`Mighty Aphrodite', written, directed, and starring Woody Allen seems to be the kind of movie Allen makes after he is worn out doing a strictly realistic, mostly serious movie such as `Crimes and Misdemeanors', `Hannah and Her Sisters', and `Husbands and Wives'. Unlike these excellent seriocomic works, `Mighty Aphrodite' flies off into a world of fantasy similar to the crazy / inventive situations in `Zellig' and `A Midsummer's Night Sex Comedy'.
Allen brings along with him his usual band of big name actors taking off from more remunerative roles to have some fun with this lighthearted comedy. As usual, heavyweights such as F. Murray Abraham, Claire Bloom, Jack Warden, and Olympia Dukakis have such small roles that you hardly notice they are there until they are off screen. In the case of Abraham and Dukakis and Allen stock player David Ogden Stiers, this anonymity is heightened by the fact that they are playing masked members of a Greek chorus, filmed in a ruined Roman amphitheater, in Italy, according to the location credits.
This movie was done for Mirimax and a sizable number of new names appear among the film's executive producers, although I am certain Allen still has his hands firmly on the artistic reins for the filming of the movie. I have no idea which of these new names represents `Sweetland Films', but their only contribution seems to have been a slightly less austere credit crawl at the end of the flick.
Aside from Allen, all of the really heavy lifting on the screen was done by title character actor Mira Sorvino, and it is beyond me how she was nominated for the supporting actress Academy Award and not in the lead actress category, although I suspect it did improve her chances of winning in the lesser category, which she did.
Of Allen's two most important movie subjects, love and death, love is certainly the main issue in this movie, signaled by the fact that Aphrodite is the name of the ancient Greek god of love, represented in this flick by Sorvino's character who is a prostitute and pornographic movie actress who wants to get out of that life and settle down in a more normal setting.
Allen plays a successful New York City sportswriter who gets connected with Sorvino when he and his wife decide to adopt a baby boy, and Allen becomes obsessed with the identity of the real mother, who turns out to be Sorvino. While Allen tries to set Sorvino up with a farmer turned boxer turned farmer, his wife (Carter) hooks up with a business partner (Peter Weller) who threatens to break up their marriage.
While there are a few brief moments of apparent danger when Sorvino's pimp threatens Allen's life if Sorvino quits, the pimp is bought off with nothing more than a pair of courtside tickets to a Knicks game. While the main `realistic' plot is pretty improbable as it is, the real silliness is going on in asides to a full masked Greek chorus very similar to what you would find in productions of plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Thrown into this absurdity is Jack Warden playing a modern blind man named Tiresius encountered on the streets of New York. The joke is that Tiresius is the name of a character in Sophocles' `Oedipus Rex' who makes the prophecy that Oedipus will kill his father. In Allen's version, Tiresius simply clues Allen into the fact that his wife is fooling around with her business partner.
The invocations of the Greek choruses get even more silly as the movie progresses, with the chorus appearing in modern New York near the end of the film, bursting into renditions of Cole Porter and tunes from other modern composers.
Like `Zellig', there is no attempt to avoid straining credulity. Near the end of the movie, Sorvino is rescued from her life of sin by a totally improbable `deux ex machina', which Allen glorifies by simply describing it as such in the voice-over.
This movie is about as close as Allen ever comes after `Annie Hall' to returning to the silliness of early movies such as `Bananas' and `Sleeper'. Unlike the early gag fests, you really feel for the characters in this movie. You don't want Allen to break up with his wife and you want Sorvino to get out of her sex business. And, we are much happier at the end of the movie than we are at the end of `Crimes and Misdemeanors' where a killer escapes justice and the nebbish gets cheated out of his girlfriend.
This is not one of Allen's very best movies, but it is in the upper half. Sorvino's performance is definitely worth the price of admission.