Apr 7, 2015

Review: September (1987)

Woody Allen has one of the most expansive careers out of anyone working in Hollywood today. He's got to be one of the best examples of longevity in La La Land and with all the movies that he's written and directed in his career, it's actually shocking that he doesn't have more clear cut flops than he does. September happens to be one of those rare flops with a paltry gross of only $486,434 domestically. While Allen has had films under perform in terms of their budget before, none have ever flopped as hard as September did.

I wasn't able to find any numbers for the budget of September, but it's still one of the reasons why the film was probably going to fail before it was ever even released. Woody Allen ended up shooting the movie twice since he was unhappy with the initial product. Shooting a movie twice doubles the budget if my calculations are correct. While September wasn't an overly complicated film with only a single location to film in, it went way over schedule and money still had to go out to pay for people and other stuff. Allen was even ready to re-shoot it a third time funnily enough.


At a Glance

Genre: drama
Directed by: Woody Allen
Produced by: Robert Greenhut, Charles H. Joffe, Jack Rollins, etc.
Written by: Woody Allen
Music by: N/A
Running time: 82 minutes
Production company: N/A
Distributed by: Orion Pictures Corporation
Country: United States
Language: English, French
Budget: N/A
Box office: $486,434 (North America)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Denholm Elliott, Dianne Wiest, Mia Farrow, Elaine Stritch, Sam Waterston, Jack Warden, Ira Wheeler, Jane Cecil, Rosemary Murphy



Lane (Mia Farrow) has recently and unsuccessfully attempted to commit suicide, prompting her best friend Stephanie (Dianne Wiest) to keep her company while also giving her the chance to take a break from her own husband and children. They're joined by Lane's mother Diane (Elaine Stritch), a one-time popular actress along with her husband Lloyd (Jack Warden). What could've and should've been a relaxing end to the summer ends up being the exact opposite.


My initial assessment of September as it began wasn't very positive. I just didn't find any of it all that engaging truth be told. This is a film of conversations which have the role of filling in backstory as well as advancing it. For whatever reason, Woody Allen's writing didn't suck me in as it should've. Usually I'm hanging on every word that comes out of his characters' mouths, but not this time. At least this was the case in the early going anyway.

That changed by around the half point of the film though where I finally found myself sinking my teeth into some meat. The scenes all began to build upon each other to great effect. I had a feel for all the characters by this time, all their motivations and I wanted to know what would happen to each one. The big thing here is that there's a lot of secret love sprinkled all over the place which complicates matters that are already complicated by leaps and bounds.

Central to all these complications is Lane who is in love with her neighbour Peter (Sam Waterston) who happens to be in love with her best friend Stephanie. Howard (Denholm Elliott), another one of Lane's neighbours is in love with her even though she doesn't requite his feelings. In addition to all these love triangles, Lane has some pretty deep-seeded issues with an occurrence involving her mother when she was a kid. She resents Diane and blames pretty much all her current problems on what happened.

This might seem all quite heavy, but Woody Allen finds a way to keep things relatively light-hearted. Not that September is a comedy, but just that he keeps away from melodrama. He also gets some wonderful performances out of Mia Farrow and Dianne Wiest. I ended up being really impressed at how intimate some of their scenes ended up feeling. They're the highlight of the film, but Elaine Stritch performs her own scene stealing as well on more than one occasion.

The story is filmed all in one location with few characters which adds another layer to the intimacy of the production. Lane's country house in Vermont feels like a real home and not just some perfect Hollywood creation. Keep in mind that it's actually a set built on a sound stage that happens to look great. Allen keeps the camera movement to a minimum for the reason that September is meant to be like a play. It's a nice effect and it keeps the focus on the story as well as the on-screen performances.

September does have a bit of a rocky beginning, but it easily makes up for that with some unmelodramatic drama and some wonderful performances. The ladies of September shine in this simple production and Woody Allen delivers quite the ending. I'm not much of a theatre guy, but it's pretty easy for anyone to see that September would make grade-A stage entertainment.



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