I watched Mighty Aphrodite the other day. When I realised what it was going to be about, I checked the release date (1995), then I checked when Woody Allen left Mia Farrow for her adopted daughter (1992). This post basically wrote itself after that.
Woody Allen and Mia Farrow started seeing each other in 1980, adopted two children together, and had one biological child. Farrow already had three adopted daughters and three biological children from a previous marriage to André Previn.
In 1992, Farrow and Allen split up after she found nude pictures of her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, in his apartment.
Farrow’s boyfriend and adopted daughter had been having a relationship since 1991, when he was 56 and she 21. They were married in 1997, and are still a couple at time of writing, in 2012, with two adopted daughters.
Allen had known Previn since she was nine years old, but he insisted in a Time magazine interview in 1992: ‘I am not Soon-Yi’s father or stepfather … I was not a father to [Farrow’s] adopted kids in any sense of the word.’
In Mighty Aphrodite, released in 1995, Allen plays a sportswriter who decides to locate his adopted son’s mother, to confirm that the boy has good genes.
Allen’s character, Lenny Weinrib, is reluctant to adopt at first – he wants to pass on his ‘award-winning genes’ – but his wife Amanda (Helena Bonham Carter) is determined to; she doesn’t have time to get pregnant because of her Important Job in the art world.
Early in the film, during dinner at a restaurant, Amanda and another couple are trying to convince Lenny to adopt, and the subject turns to the possibility of getting a ‘bad seed’.
Lenny: Yeah, we get it, we adopt some sweet little boy, and then he’d turn 13. We’d go to sleep at night, he’d split our head open with an axe.
That scene cuts to the Greek chorus and Laius, father of Oedipus, telling the story of how his own son murdered him and married his wife. Oedipus staggers on screen, eyes all bloody.
Despite the horror and the rigidity of the set pieces, and how they jar you out of the film’s reality, the chorus scenes are hilarious, because the ancient Greeks sound more and more like stereotypical New York Jewish parents. Jocasta finishes the story:
My son, my son did slay unwittingly my noble husband.
And did without realising hasten with me, his loving mother, to lustful bed.
And then the chorus chimes in:
Leader: And a whole profession was born.
Charging sometimes two hundred an hour
and a 50-minute hour at that.
Chorus: And why a child now, out of left field?
Leader: One hopes it’s not to fill some growing void in their marriage.
Jocasta: Leave her be. A woman’s urge to motherhood is old as the earth.
Chorus: Children grow up! They move out!
Sometimes to ridiculous places, like Cincinnati.
Or Boise, Idaho.
Then you never see them again.
But what this scene goes to prove is that it doesn’t matter if you adopt or not, your kids can turn out horrifying either way.
It also smacks of autobiography; Oedipus killed his father and married his mother; Allen left his partner and married her daughter. But there’s more.
Lenny and Amanda’s adopted son turns out to be a handsome, bright boy, with a sophisticated sense of humour for a six year old.
Lenny: Ever think about what you want to be when you grow up?
Max: I don’t know. Maybe an interior decorator.
Max: Just kidding. Just kidding.
Lenny decides Max’s parents must be brilliant. He goes searching for his kid’s mother, and finds her, and she’s a not-so-bright prostitute by the name of Linda Ash, aka Judy Cum.
Lenny decides to help her get her life straight, in case his son one day tries to find his mother. He’s trying to protect his kid from future disappointment – it’s genuinely well intentioned – and he resists the mother’s advances for quite a while, despite her being Mira Sorvino.
But he eventually does sleep with her. (It’s made okay by the fact that we know Amanda is also having an affair. With RoboCop.)
Incidently, Sorvino was extremely annoying in this movie. She won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar though, so I guess it’s just me.
So, just to clarify, in real life Allen has fallen in love his his girlfriend’s adopted daughter, and in movie life Lenny has fallen for his adopted son’s mother.
Mighty Aphrodite isn’t a great example of Woody Allen’s usual sparkling dialogue, but it’s still a good film. But I haven’t found a bad Woody Allen yet. It also seems to mark a change in his career; Mira Sorvino is his most curvaceous female lead, perhaps until Scarlett Johansson. The film also ends happily, as far as monogamy goes, another unusual detail, and apart from the chorus interludes it’s the straightest of his early/middle films I’ve seen.
So far so good, there’s some creepy confessional filmmaking going on, but it’s okay.
However, here’s the best part: The person Woody Allen wanted to cast as his wife in Mighty Aphrodite … was his recently estranged girlfriend Mia Farrow.
Talk about zero fucks being given. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had considered Soon-Yi Previn for a supporting role.
At the time, Farrow and Allen were suffering through a very public battle for custody of their three children. Farrow was also accusing Allen of molesting their seven-year-old adopted daughter Dylan (charges that were concluded to be inconclusive).
But where one generation tends to overreact, and get neurotic, bitter or crazy, we can trust the next to be calm and equanimous, and keep a sense of humour.
I’ll leave you with a tweet by Mia Farrow and Woody Allen’s biological son, Satchel Ronan O’Sullivan Farrow: