September (1987)

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In many of Allen’s films, there are characters who seem to want to dabble in different emotions and try them on like a new hat.  More than once he has written characters who contemplate suicide but it usually seems like they want to try to contemplate suicide to see how it feels.  In September, Lane (Mia Farrow) is so steeped in grief and thoughts of ending her life that there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel.

Lane moves to her parents summer home in Vermont after a recent break up and failed suicide attempt.  She is working to sell the house in order to start a new life in New York.  Her best friend Stephanie (Dianne Wiest) keeps her company, and Lane develops a romance with a writer named Peter (Sam Waterston).

Lane is struggling to cope with a tragic past in which she shot and killed her mother’s abusive boyfriend.  Diane tells her to leave the past alone and to move on, yet Lane struggles nonetheless.  To make matters worse, Peter is very interested in writing Diane’s story, digging up this and other old, painful memories.

In response to all these feelings and pain, Lane has leaned on her relationship with Peter, however Peter is in love with Stephanie and admits to having strung Lane along.  When Lane, trying to sell the house, walks in on Peter and Stephanie kissing, she goes into a tailspin.

Then Diane announces that she plans to keep the house, and everything boils up to the surface.  Lane tells her how hard it’s been for her, and Diane again explains that she should just move on.  That’s when Lane reveals that it was Diane who shot the abusive boyfriend, and Lane only took the blame when the police asked.

Lane retreats to her room and says she just wants to end it all.  Stephanie, is a shitty friend and tells her to get over it, echoing Diane.  But Stephanie is only consumed by guilt, and she admits to her part in flirting with Peter.  Stephanie says, “you know, we’re all up here isolated from the world, unpredictable things  happen.”  This could be a good thesis statement for many of Woody Allen’s films.

 

Diane and her new husband leave for Palm Springs, and Lane goes back to trying to sell the house, still looking for the new start.  Stephanie mentions that it’s almost September, and thus the title is about turning the corner and starting new.

This is Woody’s second heavy drama, after Interiors (1978).  It also reminds me of Hannah and Her Sisters if only because Mia Farrow plays a grounded character who has to put ip with the people around her.  Other than that, however, the two movies are nothing alike, particularly in tone.

Both this and Interiors are so heavy and wrapped up in mother-daughter relationships.  It seems to suggest that the type of pain which can really weigh you down is something often out of your control.  Either that or you should be weary of unaddressed issues.  I guess that’s what it is.  Woody often plays characters who refer to psychoanalysis.  He’s a guy who’s constantly checking in with himself and trying to figure out where certain habits or feelings come from.  In September and Interiors you have several characters who are really just trying to bury their issue or so actively consumed by them so as to be paralyzed.

So it’s as if he’s showing the danger of letting yourself be eaten up by the past.  So does that mean Diane, the mother, is doing the right thing?  She’s trying to enjoy life, in fact, she really wants to enjoy life so she’s letting her daughter suffer, particularly as she allowed her to take the blame for killing a man.  Maybe Allen is stating that you can be eaten alive by the past or you can pass the pain off to someone else and be happy, but you can’t be happy without hurting someone else.  Or maybe there is no broader statement to be made.  It’s just how two different people cope.

Woody’s dramas, like this one, seem to make a bigger use of the close up shot, as well as shallow focus in this case.  His comedies are shot wider so you can see the humor in how the characters bounce off each other or even look next to each other.  His dramas try to get you as close to the characters so you can see them tremble.

Lastly, this film as a whole feels too melodramatic.  Like Interiors, it could easily work as a play, especially because the entire thing takes place indoors.  They even have the comically-bright lighting flashes that you could see blasted onto the stage during a life performance as someone says “oh listen to that thunder!”

Each character has a very meaty role, and I could see many actors looking for roles such as these.  At the same time there’s so little levity of any kind that these performances feel like the dramatic equivalent of a slapstick comedy.  The actors don’t portray range in their characters, just a specific emotion.  The film was only 82 minutes long but it felt much longer.  As they are stuck in the house during the rainstorm, so are we.  We’re forced to listen to their soft-spoken conversations and exist with their pain.

Next to Lane’s emotional trauma, Peter’s and Stephanie’s budding relationship felt insignificant.  Part of that serves to justify them going their separate ways in the end, but I couldn’t stand either character.  Like many Woody Allen characters, they logically know they should feel or act a certain way and yet are very moved by their uncontrollable lust so that they end up in compromising situations.

So where does this stand among his other films?  It feels like the second film of a pairing with Interiors, promoted as the world’s saddest double feature.  It is interesting to see Allen focus on the consequences of a gunshot.  He’s not by any means obsessed with violence and guns, but he does use them in many films, often as slapstick props, so that the guns hardly feel dangerous at all.

Here he looks at just how traumatizing an event like that could be.  Hell, in Allen’s last film Radio Days, Mia Farrow plays a character who witness a man get shot and then the story just moves right along to her trying to get into the radio business.

Mia Farrow’s character here is the polar opposite of her character in Radio Days.  She bounces between realistic, grounded characters and cartoonish sketch-type characters in these Woody Allen films.  Take, for example, her Italian stereotype of a character in Broadway Danny Rose vs. this or Hannah in Hannah and Her Sisters.  She shows great range in her different roles, and it might be that Woody Allen wants to give her roles she can chew on.

Lastly, this is another film with no Woody Allen appearance as an actor or voice actor.  When he takes himself out of the film he also seems to remove his sense of humor as well, and, because his filmmaking perspective is so wrapped up in his comedic sensibilities, the film seems devoid of any Woody Allen influence.  It just becomes a sadly dramatic film about characters I don’t like.  In his comedies his characters seem more real.  They don’t get away with their bullshit because someone else catches them or they catch themselves on it.  In a drama like this, the characters indulge each other in their pain.  It becomes so emotional that it’s like each character is trying to summon up a volcano of catharsis.  Basically, they’re trying to get the volcano to erupt, and as they’re drowning/burning in the lava, they’re keeping their eyes open as if to say “there’s gotta be some catharsis around here somewhere.”  Then it’s just pain for the viewer, at least for me, but maybe other people liked it.

“We’re all temperamental, otherwise we wouldn’t all be so fascinating.” – Diane to Lane, another line that would be in the hypothetical Woody Allen film bible.

Up Next: Another Woman (1988), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Deepwater Horizon (2016)

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