Hollywood Ending is a film about the making of a film. I always like those kinds of films, and Hollywood does too (Argo won Best Picture after all). In Hollywood Ending, Allen both celebrates and ridicules the Hollywood system. He mostly ridicules it.
Allen plays Val, a struggling movie director who gets a big break to direct a big budget movie about New York. He gets this opportunity because his ex-wife Ellie (Tea Leoni) works at the studio and fiercely advocates on his behalf. To make matters more complicated, Ellie is married to the studio executive, Hal, and Val has not moved on past their breakup.
That’s enough for a movie right there: A guy directs a film, and his boss is his ex-wife’s new husband. You could see the story beginning to take shape. The director of photography doesn’t speak English, there’s a reporter on set at all times, Val casts his young girlfriend in the role (similar to the situation with the mob boss’ girlfriend in Bullets Over Broadway), etc.
But then, a little over 40 minutes into the film, Val suddenly goes blind. The doctors find nothing wrong with him, and it’s determined to be a psychosomatic blindness, but no one knows why. Val wants to quit the movie, but his agent encourages him not to because his career will surely be over if he has to depart the movie, adding to his murky reputation in the business.
So he stays on and directs the entire movie blind. He first gets help from confiding in the Cinematographer’s translator, but when the translator is fired by the cinematographer, Val turns to Ellie who is forced to cover for him since she’s the one who hired him.
They finish the movie, against heavy odds, without anyone finding out about Val’s blindness. When he visits his therapist, Val realizes his psychosomatic blindness might be due to the plot of the film mirroring the downfall of his relationship with his own son. So Val visits his punk rocker son (who changed his name from Tony to Scumbag X), and soon after he can see again. He is so attracted to everything around him, the beauty of the city and the beauty of his ex-wife. That’s all tampered, though, when he goes to look at the movie footage and knows it’s garbage.
At the very end, Val’s agent tells him that despite all the audience/critical hate thrown at the film in America, it turns out that France thinks it’s brilliant. Val proclaims his thanks for the French, and he and Ellie get back together and move to France.
So where to start…. this movie looked like a Hollywood production. Allen used a new cinematographer, Wedigo von Schultzendorff. Every shot was bright and lined up neatly. That is to say, it looked like a lot of films. There didn’t seem to be any experimentation in the camera work like Husbands and Wives, for example. It just looked like a Hollywood film, and it’s about a Hollywood film, so it makes sense.
I may be mistaken, but I think at this time in his career, Allen had a lot of financial flops or at least what you’d classify as unsuccessful in the studio executive’s eyes. So the end, with him leaving for France, reflected the reality that he couldn’t get the funding he needed in America anymore. Later in his career he began making more films abroad, such as Midnight in Paris and Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Match Point too.
This is like a farewell letter to Hollywood, showing all the things he hates about it but not outright shitting on Hollywood like he shit on some things in the hell sequence of Deconstructing Harry. In films like Deconstructing Harry and Stardust Memories, the criticism thrown at Allen’s character feels harsh and not thought through. In Hollywood Ending, though, the criticism of his character is justified because it’s coming from people who want concrete, financial results and Val hasn’t proven he can do that.
Add to that Val’s neuroses manifesting itself physically, and it seems clear that he was never the right man for the job. In the end, of course, he makes a film (albeit not on purpose) that appeals to a completely different audience than the one originally anticipated.
The studio execs say they want a film with mass appeal, and Val makes a film with a limited but intense appeal. Maybe that’s what he thinks of a lot of his films. Allen is popular in Europe (as far as I know), and he probably never anticipated his foreign success.
The title of this film can be read on multiple levels. The first one is that when people refer to a “Hollywood ending,” they’re probably implying closure and sunsets. Think of the cowboy riding off into the sunset, or more likely a couple strolling off into the sunset. Val gets that exact ending in this movie. His movie succeeds on some level, he reunites with his son and he gets back together with his ex-wife who admits that she never stopped loving him.
“Hollywood Ending” can also be looked at as the ending of Hollywood. It’s over, and Val/Allen’s time in Hollywood is over. It’s another pivot in his career, and it’s one that gave him a renewed life. It’s easy to disappear after a string of financial failures. Not everyone rebounds, but Allen’s career has lasted for so long that he’s demonstrated an ability to stick around… for 40+ years.
Hollywood Ending was financed by Dreamworks, as were Allen’s previous several films. So it’s interesting to note that. His next film, Anything Else was also financed by Dreamworks.
I don’t know what to make of it, exactly, other than he’s acknowledging that his films don’t have a widespread appeal, but he knows there is some sort of audience. I can never figure how much Allen is commenting on himself in his films. It’s so easy to see these as confessional in some way, but it also feels like Allen knows the audience expects that, so he’s toying with us. Who knows.