Director: Woody Allen; Cast: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Jerry Stiller, Estelle Harris, Haley Joel Osment, Steve Carrell, Paul Rudd
When Woody Allen announced he would be remaking Rosemary’s Baby (1968) as a comedy, various heated claims that he was doing so purely out of spite for Mia Farrow were tweeted fifty-three times by his estranged son, Ronan Farrow, in less than two hours. Meanwhile, Hollywood insiders wondered if the elderly director—whose earlier work was constantly punctuated by meta-aware fourth wall breaks—had taken irony too far, as he and Mia Farrow were partners for twelve years, a relationship which ended disastrously when the latter discovered photos of her then twenty-year-old adopted daughter Soon-Yi in the former’s possession.
“My f-final c-c-comedy,” said the seventy-eight-year old director, reappropriating his stage stutter during his acceptance speech for the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award, which was met with a standing ovation. “Do you all like me that much, or is it just hemorrhoids?” The audience roared with laughter.
After an austere late period marked by brilliant yet nefarious tales of murder and deceit (Match Point), codependence and adultery (Vicki Cristina Barcelona), and a huge nervous breakdown (Blue Jasmine), it was nice to hear Allen returning to the comedic form of his earlier farces like Love & Death, Sleeper, and Zelig. As a gesture of solidarity to the original writer, he even asked Roman Polanski—who is not known for comedy, but who notably mimicked Allen’s humor—to reimagine a zanier and more upbeat screenplay.
Jerry Stiller and Estelle Harris reprise their Seinfeldian roles as the overbearing Costanzas, only this time as the neighboring Castevet devil worshipers. When Jerry Stiller (as Roman Castevet), barges into the apartment àla the explosive mannerisms of Seinfeld‘s Kramer, Rosemary seems like a subdued pre-Feminist version of the more confrontational Elaine Benes. As unbelievable the present-day Woody Allen and Mia Farrow are as the Woodhouses—and through the sheer resentment you can see in their eyes, perhaps in the Method acting of life’s disaster—there is still a faint touch of empathy, or at least resignation, in their fake address to each other. The unhappy marriage is made more surreal and disturbing by Polanski’s attempt at Allenean humor:
Where’s my viagra?
I put it in the cactus, dear.
Somebody call a doctor, it’s been over four hours!
In “Letter from ‘Manhattan'” (The New York Review of Books, August 16, 1979) Joan Didion facetiously notes how the rather self-absorbed characters in his “serious” work (Annie Hall, Interiors, and Manhattan) all “seem to take long walks and go to smart restaurants only to ask one another hard questions,” which is both admittedly accurate yet sadly hypocritical, if one considers Didion’s frequent preoccupation with her own intellectual bourgeois lifestyle, of which she is most critical in Allen, going so far to call his characters “faux adults.” True, in this remake of Rosemary’s Baby we do indeed meet a bickering upper class couple, of Jew and Wasp binary, arguing about where to hang the Damien Hirst dot painting, if the lobster ravioli needs more sage, if the rare orchids have been watered, among many other economically ostentatious qualms. Allen here, as a common crutch, “goes off” on Hegel, Freud, and Marx—losing himself not as Guy Woodhouse, but, literally, as himself, to a stunned Rosemary holding a pregnancy text.
Woody Allen and Roman Polanski sadly have one more thing in common, besides muse Mia Farrow. Their collaboration here, however perverse, passive-aggressive, or misogynistic, has hit mass market regardless. People magazine, for idiot populace, called it “the one movie to watch this summer.” BuzzFeed captured twenty-seven of the film’s most climactic .gifs, which according to them, will make your head explode.
Perhaps most frightening, as opposed to the original version in which the baby’s face was never portrayed, is Haley Joel Osment as Satan’s spawn. Osment—best known for his “I see dead people” line in The Sixth Sense—is twenty-six years old now, and despite his “baby face,” not to mention some rather expensive and tedious CGI, a very horrendous looking baby. The penultimate shot, before Rosemary faints and punctures her colostomy bag with a broken hip, is a lone zoom in on Osment in heavy goth makeup trying to facialize the embodiment of evil. Some laughed, others gasped, a few gagged.
Cameos by Steve Carrell and Paul Rudd as the gay neighbors raised lips a little, but ultimately Polanski should not be writing dick jokes. The Victorian Gothic interiors were indeed stunning, but Allen’s camera seems more loyal to the product placements (Depend, Preparation H, Sensodyne, Welch’s Prune juice, etc). The Woodhouse’s geriatric gait never quite matches up to the snappy cadence of the jazz soundtrack, which continuously blew its cacophonous horns into laugh tracks inserted by a director clearly at the end of his game. Maybe this is a horror film after all.
Jimmy Chen lives in San Francisco and can be found online at jimmychenchen.com.