Combustible Celluloid
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With: John Cusack, Dianne Wiest, Jennifer Tilly, Chazz Palminteri, Mary-Louise Parker, Jack Warden, Joe Viterelli, Rob Reiner, Tracey Ullman, Jim Broadbent, Harvey Fierstein, Stacey Nelkin, Margaret Sophie Stein, Charles Cragin, Nina Sonya Peterson
Written by: Woody Allen, Douglas McGrath
Directed by: Woody Allen
MPAA Rating: R for some language
Running Time: 98
Date: 09/14/1994

Bullets Over Broadway (1994)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Don't Speak

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One of Woody Allen's flat-out funniest movies, Bullets Over Broadway stars John Cusack as David Shayne, a struggling playwright in 1920s New York, who is absolutely married to each one of the painstakingly-chosen words in his latest play. But the promise of success is too tempting and he reluctantly agrees to cast a gangster's moll, squeaky-voiced Olive (Jennifer Tilly) in order to receive funding. Fortunately, he also gets to cast his dream actress, Helen Sinclair (Dianne Wiest). Her "don't speak!" is one of the movie's most quotable moments.

The kicker comes when Olive arrives for rehearsals accompanied by a thuggish bodyguard, Cheech (Chazz Palminteri). After quietly listening to rehearsals for some time, Cheech begins to suggest changes and improvements to the play, and darned if they don't make sense. Part of the genius of this screenplay is that the play-within-the-movie is never fully explained, but when individual parts are discussed, it all sounds plausible.

In another brilliant touch, David belongs to a playwright's group that sits around and philosophizes about writing. Rob Reiner plays another member of this group, claiming that, because none of his plays have ever been produced, they are "art" and not "hits," and asking questions like: "Let's say there was a burning building and you could rush in and you could save only one thing: either the last known copy of Shakespeare's plays or some anonymous human being. What would you do?" These discussions reflect interestingly on the entire process of writing and creating throughout.

Allen went all-out for this one, creating a luxurious 1920s design that adds a certain flavor to the humor. The movie received seven Oscar nominations, for Art Direction and Costume Design, as well as Allen for direction and Allen and co-writer Douglas McGrath for Best Screenplay. Cusack was not nominated for whatever reason, but Palminteri was nominated for Supporting Actor and Tilly and Wiest competed against each other for Supporting Actress. Wiest won, but after several viewings I find Tilly much funnier. (My favorite line is: "I think you're a degenerate zombie so shut up and read.")

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