By now you've heard that Nicole Kidman will appear in Woody Allen's next untitled film (they're always untitled for a good while) due in 2010. It'll be his fourth film set in London and the cast currently includes Anthony Hopkins, Josh Brolin, Freida Pinto, Naomi Watts, and Antonio Banderas.
While the Kidman/Allen match might prove fascinating -- she loves real auteurs / he loves actresses with neurotic edge -- it also might be a big news item signifying nothing. Think of Julia Roberts and Drew Barrymore starring in Everyone Says I Love You back in 1996. What's that, you say? You'd forgotten they were in that one. You're forgiven. See, they were major gets in the mid-90s but they proved to be far from the highlights of that film (Goldie Hawn easily won 'best in show' honors there). The media has a tendency to see every female casting decision made by Woody Allen as a sign of a new "muse". It's silly but understandable. The pull of the collaborative director/actor mystique is powerful.
Wilder had Jack Lemmon. Ford had John Wayne and Henry Fonda. Kurosawa had Mifune. Bergman had Liv Ullman and Max von Sydow. Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski drove each other mad. Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich are forever intertwined. Wong Kar Wai has Tony Leung Chiu Wai. Scorsese had DeNiro and then DiCaprio. And then there's Woody...
Cinema's most beloved/hated intellectual neurotic New York Jew is as regular as fiber, churning out approximately one film per calendar year since nearly the very beginning of his career. He's been in the muse business a long while. First came Louise Lasser in the 1960s (she was his second wife). Girlfriend Diane Keaton took over for a classic run in the 1970s. His longest lasting collaboration came with girlfriend Mia Farrow in the 1980s. She made her first Woody film in 1982 (A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy) and appeared in every one of his films thereafter until the last one in 1992 (Husbands and Wives) which was filmed during their brutal breakup.
Woody's actresses and the number of his films they appeared in, from top left: Mia Farrow, Diane Keaton, Julie Kavner, Dianne Wiest, Louise Lasser, Judy Davis, Scarlett Johansson (there are a few other actresses who've been in three of his films and a whole bunch have made 2. Here's a full list. Will Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts or Frieda Pinto get follow up films?
The rest is scandalous history and cinematic meandering. Their very public very nasty split and Woody's subsequent marriage to Farrow's adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn arguably coincided with a downward spiral in the quality of Woody's films with only Bullets Over Broadway (1994) generating the type of critical and specialized audience hosannas that Woody's films had previously enjoyed. But things have been on the upswing for him since Match Point (2005) his first collaboration with Scarlett Johansson. That thriller won surprisingly strong notices and the best box office he'd seen in many years. Scarlett got a lot of press for being his new muse but three films isn't much to go on... and was she the best thing in any of them? No.
If you ask me I'd say he hasn't yet found (or stuck with) the actress he needs for a truly inspired resurgence. The actresses that bring out the best in Woody's writing are the more mature, complicated, brainy and/or very funny ones. Patricia Clarkson is on her second feature with Woody (this summer's Whatever Works) and I hope he gives her more to do this time around. Why he stopped working with Dianne Wiest, Tracey Ullman or Judy Davis... (valuable Woody players all) is beyond me.
If Woody wants to continue working with the 20something set (and his last several films imply that he does) I humbly request a collaboration with either Ari Graynor (Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist), Jess Weixler (Teeth), Kirsten Dunst or even Amanda Seyfried who have all exhibited comic flair in one project or another... or at least more than Scarlett herself who tends to be strongest in lower key dramas with or without comic elements (Ghost World, Lost in Translation, etcetera).
I'm excited to see Kidman, one of the best actors in the business, under his directorial hand but I don't hold out much hope that he'll start writing with her in mind. It's been awhile since he was writing regularly for older women. If he'll write something for a 30something woman again (more likely) I think Charlize Theron, who was very good in both of her very bad Woody Allen pictures (Celebrity and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion), deserves a lead role in one of his films. I really do.
Wouldn't she be worth musing over?
Recent Related Post: Whatever Works (Woody's 2009 movie)