M ama Mia!
Drivel is again loose on the airwaves. In lavishing two nights of swanky prime time on the domestic carnage of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, Fox is dressing a flea in top hat and tails.
Although Fox continues to chip away at ABC, CBS and NBC, and its recent O.J. Simpson movie whipped up much better ratings than anticipated, it will never acquire any class until it at least occasionally puts on programs that actually mean something. But don't expect it. Getting a whiff of what Fox is spewing tonight and Thursday, it's not metamorphosis that you smell.
"Is there a point to all of this?" someone wonders in the four-hour "Love and Portrayal: The Mia Farrow Story," Fox's latest tabloid tell-all regarding celebrities whose sordid troubles equal banner headlines. It's the question you keep asking while watching this cheap shot, which defines its famous subjects mostly by their libidos and emotional immaturity. In this account, Mia and Woody are the mismatched, misguided Couple From Hell, and Mia's home-wrecking daughter, Soon-Yi, is a little vixen.
Who needs it? Who necessarily believes all of it?
But fun? A diversion from the odyssey of O.J.? Well, if an overlong, trashy hoot is what you're after, this is a hoot and a half, a banal biography so gorgeously campy and artless that it's hard to resist if you don't take it seriously. Surely its creators don't. Although the agonies of Mia and Woody and their brood are well known, to call this "docudrama," or even "middle-brow pop history," is to validate its numerous dialogues and scenes that seem to be pure invention.
Mia Farrow is an actress of skill. The recent Oscar nomination of his "Bullets Over Broadway" affirms actor-humorist-director Woody Allen as one of America's foremost filmmakers. But this is the '90s, decade of dirt. So Farrow and Allen are famous these days mostly for their acrimonious split, which found Allen admitting to regularly sleeping with Soon-Yi (then a high school senior) and Farrow accusing him of sexually molesting their jointly adopted daughter, Dylan.
Tragic for the kids, grist for the media, their bitter custody battle was almost surreal, with a judge ultimately barring Allen from visits with Dylan and limiting him to brief supervised meetings with his biological son, Satchel.
Is this old hat for daytime viewers or what? People every bit as petulant and hateful as Allen and Farrow snarl at each other daily on "Ricki Lake" and other talk shows, where neuroses regularly hit the fan, back-stabbers are the norm and family feuds the prevailing dysfunction. Yet how ironic that this particular storm should rage so publicly, given that Allen always had been so guarded about his personal life.
The crush of Allen/Farrow news stories obviously wasn't sufficient, however, so those serious historians at Fox assembled a team to further massage inquiring minds: director Karen Arthur ("An American Dream: The Jacksons") and writer Cynthia Cherbak ("Lucy & Desi: Before the Laughter"). Cherbak's sources here are "Mia & Woody: Love & Betrayal," the book that Farrow's former nanny, Kristi Groteke, wrote with Marjorie Rosen, plus "Mia: The Lives of Mia Farrow," by Edward Z. Epstein and Joe Morella.
Fox's slouching, muttering Woody--with a shaved bald spot, false nose and familiar soft canvas hat pulled down to his brows--is Dennis Boutsikaris. Its Mia is Patsy Kensit, a closer match to Joey Heatherton than to Farrow. Its Soon-Yi is Grace Una, who, unlike the actual Soon-Yi, is a real dish whose flirty gazes could melt a log. They do melt Woody, and just who is manipulating whom here is never clear.
Like familiar protagonists from one of Allen's own movies, Fox's Farrow and Allen often communicate in a stylized nervous jabber, stuttering at each other on the streets of Manhattan and elsewhere ("Y-y-y-y-y-you go to hell!" "No, y-y-y-y-y-you . . . "). It's mannered, it's comical.
The story tumbles out in flashbacks, with Farrow's preceding, much older husbands, Frank Sinatra and Andre Previn, also showing up as caricatures.
"So," Frank says to Mia, a sheet discreetly draped across his personal equipment after having sex, "how'd ya like it my way?" Could he have actually said that? Could Cherbak have actually written it?
The 13 movies Allen and Farrow made together--from the Bergmanesque "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy" to "Husbands and Wives," which eerily paralleled their real-life breakup that followed Mia's discovery of Woody's nude photos of Soon-Yi--become signposts here for their off-screen collaboration.
"You make me crazy," Mia coos to Woody in bed after they begin dating. "You're so incredible. How do you know just where to touch me?"
Years later, though, it's Soon-Yi he's touching, secretly and with her consent, and it's Mia who's now pouting about her longtime companion's dwindling sex drive.
No wonder his interest is elsewhere. Fox's Soon-Yi is a real babe, coquettishly returning Woody's lustful glances when their eyes meet. Their first kiss is tender, their lips hungering, exploring. Later we see Soon-Yi alone in bed, dreamily running her finger over a photo of Woody. Later the photograph is replaced by the real Woody. He's on the phone in bed beside Soon-Yi, giving Mia a phony excuse why she can't visit him in the flat he's leasing while finishing a movie. And later still, we see Dylan barge in on Woody and Soon-Yi as they make love. Then comes the ugly custody hearing.
The haminess of "Love and Betrayal" is seductive. But two nights of it? Well, y-y-y-y-y-you don't watch Fox expecting to be enriched.
* "Love and Betrayal: The Mia Farrow Story" airs tonight and Thursday at 8 p.m. on Fox (Channels 11 and 6).