Woody Allen: A Documentary, by Robert B. Weide, is exactly what it sounds like, with one added caveat: It’s officially sanctioned by the neurotic gnome himself.

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That turns out to be the film’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness. On the plus side it means that Woody himself gives us insight into his method and walks us around places from his childhood, telling fun stories. On the flip side  it means that the film feels extremely masturbatory. Every single interviewee and commentator practically falls over themselves with excitement in proclaiming how brilliant and amazing Woody and everything he’s ever done is. It ends up like the most positive echo-chamber ever built.

The film goes through Woody’s comic career and filmography in rather great detail (suspiciously hurrying through or outright skipping almost all of his recent and not so well received work), ending with his crowning financial success in Midnight in Paris. Along the way we’re given tons of behind the scenes insight and stories of how things came to be. However, when talking about Woody’s less than critically and financially successful works, such as Stardust Memories, there’s always the air of “oh, they just didn’t understand how brilliant it was”. The film only touches lightly on the controversies surrounding him and Woody never address the issues head-on, opting to brush them aside.

Woody himself, though, is quite honest, humble and self-deprecating. He has a gift for storytelling and it gets put to great use here. We probably would’ve ended up with a much more interesting documentary if it were just him rambling on for the roughly two hour run time. At least he keeps it funny throughout.

This isn’t a particularly lavishly produced documentary, feeling more like a long form DVD extra, with nothing inherently cinematic about its very standard documentary film making.

Woody Allen at a press event

Final Verdict: Woody Allen: A Documentary is basically his Wikipedia page put on film with some added spice from the man himself. It doesn’t make full use of its unprecedented access and has very obvious tunnel vision towards Woody. He himself puts it best near the end when he calls applause and compliments from the crowds at Cannes meaningless because of course they’d never say anything negative to his face. That’s what this feels like. Still, it’s light and fun and a treat for any die hard Woody fan.

Keep up with our RIFF coverage here.
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