Bullets Over Broadway (Woody Allen, 1994)
Struggling playwright David Shayne (John Cusack) is ranting about how it's so difficult to have an honestly "art-ful" play to get financing in 20's Broadway. Olive Neal (Jennifer Tilly), one of the dozens of girls in a chorus line, rants to her mobster lord boyfriend how she is still a bit player for so many years. The solution, according to director Woody Allen, is to put mobster money to fund the playwright's drama. The consequences are plenty: Olive turns out to be a very wooden actress with a difficulty in memorizing lines; she also brings along Cheech (Chazz Palminteri), the bodyguard who seems to have a knack in making revisions to Shayne's work. The result is probably one of the funniest films Allen ever made.
It helps that Allen didn't cast himself as the struggling playwright. Although he does inject a lot of the stereotypical neurotic New Yorker he usually plays into the character, Cusack molds David Shayne into a less cardboard cut-out character, and thus, giving the character a youthful and more balanced charm that doesn't get tiring.
Jennifer Tilly is wonderful here. Her hoarse voice fits the personality of the character like a glove. She throws Allen's witty lines like it naturally came from the social climber's own consciousness. When she rants about how the black pearls given to her as a gift by her boyfriend comes from degenerate oysters, it bursts out so perfectly that the inevitable consequence is a well-earned chuckle. She fits the mold of unawarely talentless ambition-driven skank with so much earnest eager that it's so pathetic, its pitiful.
Diane Wiest plays the Broadway prima donna Helen Sinclair, who topbills David Shayne's play. Shayne and Sinclair eventually develop into an odd couple who respectively seems to be both in love with each other's external personalities. In fact, Allen insists on the theme of whether one is in love with the artist or the person, and exemplifies such with the relationship that comedically develops between the prima donna and the playwright, and later on, between Shayne and his real girlfriend Ellen (Mary-Louise Parker). Wiest delivers a performance to match Tilly's outright crassness. Wiest is at all times classy, histrionic, and the most affectionate of all drama queens. Her Helen Sinclair possesses a low-pitched seductive voice that is at the same time gorgeous and dangerous. But Allen doesn't turn her into a femme fatale, but a bagful of laughs. He makes use of Wiest's low-pitched voice to turn the mundane line "Don't speak!" into a source of chuckles.
Bullets Over Broadway is not the most visually stunning of Allen's work. Carlos di Palma's cinematography is, as always, quite uninspired. Allen does recreate the look of 20's New York with costumes, sets, and dialogue that allude to that dangerous decade. The film mostly works because it contains bravura performances from almost all fronts (Jim Broadbent's desperately dieting thespian turns a rather inept and unoriginal comic sequence into a hilarious riot). I sometimes don't quite buy Allen's philosophical musings on art, theater, and love, but upon a backdrop of this kind of intense comedy, it doesn't come off as impendingly high brow as other Allen films like Deconstructing Harry (1997).