Bullets Over Broadway Bullets Over Broadway is definitely something you’ve never seen before. It’s hard to imagine any other writer in the entire world coming up with the basic plot that drives the film. Woody Allen takes a humerous concept and allows it to grow more absurd and surreal with each passing moment. And somehow, by film’s end, the ridiculous seems acceptable. The film has been referred to as a comic take on the themes explored in Crimes and Misdemeanors, and while a comparison is interesting, I don’t necessarily think it holds up. Bullets Over Broadway is an entirely unique film, inhabiting a bizarre universe completely its own.
While both films feature the killing of an innocent, if annoying, female character, the comparison really ends there. Besides, in this film, the character pays for his murder. Perhaps the more interesting question the film raises is this: should artists really be willing to kill (or die for) their art? Of course, you’d never have time to ponder this question while in the midst of viewing the film. There’s simply too much else going on, too many characters and plotlines to allow you the time to reflect on the underlying questions the film raises about art. And this is for the best; after all, the film is a comedy. Allen stayed behind the camera for this film, marking the first time he decided not to act in one of his own comedies. Though he’d not appeared in any of his three dramatic films (Interiors, September, Another Woman), he had always made an appearance of some sort in each of his comedies.
It’s an intersting choice that has no real explanation, but definitely ends up being the right decision. I say this only because John Cusack is wonderful in his Woody-ish lead role. You don’t miss Allen, primarily because of Cusack’s built-in charm and the great chemistry he has with both Dianne Wiest and Chazz Palminteri. Both Wiest and Palminteri were nominated for supporting Oscars (Wiest won the award), and both definitely benefited from Cusack’s performance. Bullets Over Broadway tells the story of a young, seemingly talented playwright, David Shayne (Cusack).
As the movie begins, he’s having problems raising the funding for his latest play. In addition, he has no cast to speak of, and a great deal of self-doubt. His agent finally finds a producer, who happens to be a powerful gangster. The aging gangster, Rocco,agrees to back the play — as long as his young girlfriend, Olive (Jennifer Tilly) is allowed to play a major role. Cusack agrees without realizing what he’s in for.
The girl is loud, obnoxious, ditzy and annoying. In addition, she’s an absolutely horrible actress in every imaginable way. Of course, Cusack can’t back out on the deal, as the gangster makes very clear. As the play begins to take shape, the gangster sends a fellow gangster, Cheech (played by Palminteri), to supervise the rehearsals (i.e. to make sure no one cuts Olive’s lines or mistreats her).
This masterful set up allows Allen and co-writer Douglas McGrath numerous comedic opportunities which they take full advantage of. The grand lady of the theatre, Helen Sinclair (Dianne Wiest), the over-eating thespian (Jack Warden), the gangster’s moll, and the stuffy words of the questionably talented playwright come together in the near-perfect rehearsal scenes. In time, Cusack’s playwright falls head over heels for the pretentious theatre star, and they carry on a love affair, all the while making plans for her big comeback to the stage. Wiest often plays the rather obnoxious actress to absurd lengths of characterization, and it works every time; in a film full of comic roles and stereotypes, she all but steals the show. The brilliance of Bullets Over Broadway is that it keeps getting more and more ridiculous, without ever seeming too far-fetched to lose its audience.
The final masterstroke of the film’s plot(and perhaps its funniest twist) comes when Palminteri, tired of hearing the stiff, stilted dialogue of the play, begins to make suggestions at rehearsals. Cusack is at first outraged, and threatens to quit, but he eventually realizes that the gangster’s suggestions are actually quite good. Palminteri’s gangster turns out to be a genius; a raw, natural playwright who helps Cusack reshape and re-tool his play. Once he becomes involved in the writing, the play suddenly becomes vastly improved, and Olive’s sore lack of talent stands out all the more. Palminteri can’t stand it — she ruins his lines and screws up the play.
He wants her out of the way, and he knows only one way to accomplish that. This is the basis for the final act of the film, and I won’t ruin it for those of you who haven’t seen it. In addition to the main action of the film, there are numerous subplots and asides that make the film a true delight to behold. Bullets Over Broadway is one of those films that you truly have to watch more than once, just to catch all the things you missed the first time around. The film received Oscar nominations for Best Art Design, Best Costume Design, Best Supporting Actress (both Tilly and Wiest), Best Supporting Actor (Palminteri), and Best Screenplay (Allen and McGrath). It also marked the sixth time in Allen’s career that he was nominated for Best Director, though the film itself was not nominated for Best Picture, and (sadly) Wiest was the film’s only Oscar winner.