Gangly Jason Biggs is the latest leading man to undergo the trial of being Woody’s youthful stand-in. His aspiring comedy writer with woman trouble is exactly the sort of part Allen would once have played himself, but the creator retains his stamp on it by insisting Biggs delivers the lines with typically Woody-ish intonation. It’s no slight on the ‘American Pie’ star to suggest this just isn’t his thing, but, frankly, that’s the least of the misjudgements on view. You feel sorry for Christina Ricci, doing everything asked of her as Biggs’ voluptuously maddening girlfriend, yet her manipulative prick-teaser of a part comes across like Woody’s hate-letter to womankind. And where does the young man go for advice on his travails? To Allen himself, of course, as a fellow writer who dispenses gnomic utterances (‘It’s like anything else really?’) and moral support when he’s not revealing distinct psychotic tendencies. It seems we’re meant to think this guy is witty, wise and a little edgy, though the effect is truly resistible. He’s a pinched ageing misanthrope whose wisecracks about the Holocaust are screechingly inappropriate.
It’s a painful experience for any Allen admirer to sit through one of his movies without anything positive to say. There’s Darius Khondji’s warm-toned camerawork and the soundtrack’s reassuring parade of jazz oldies, but that’s where the pleasure ends, though it’s only fair to report a sprinkling of laughter at the screening I attended – someone somewhere was evidently getting a kick from this stuff. But really, the timing’s gone, the humour’s flat, the insights mean-spirited. For a supposed light comedy, it’s the year’s most depressing film.