“A Crisis in Six Scenes”

Photo courtesy of Flickr.com.

Don’t let anyone fool you; Amazon’s newest comedic mini-series “Crisis in Six Scenes” is a movie. It’s written and directed by one man (Woody Allen), it spans just over two hours in runtime and it has all the typical beats of a feature length film. It is the second Woody Allen film of 2016 in all but name. And it is very bad.

Sidney and Kay Munsinger (Woody Allen and Elaine May) are an elderly, well-off couple living in suburbia in the 1960s. They’ve agreed to let Alan (John Magaro), a young, anxious financial manager, live with them until his wedding day, which is coming up soon. Everyone’s life is moving according to plan, until Lennie (Miley Cyrus), a gorgeous political activist, takes up residence in the Munsinger household.

Before you disregard my criticisms of this film as the mere ramblings of a Woody Allen hater, know that I’m actually a really big fan of his works, especially his comedies (which is how “Crisis” is being billed). The plain fact of the matter is that very few parts of “Crisis” work comedically, or even dramatically. Jokes often fall flat, either due to poor deliveries or a general dearth of wit. Allen himself, while never a stellar actor, has been reduced to an inarticulate, blabbering lump of his former self, and Oscar winner Elaine May is often guilty of those same failings. Scenes drag on, ceaselessly, seemingly with nothing to say and nowhere to go. The entire enterprise often feels unrehearsed, with only the vaguest idea of what it’s trying to achieve, like the most awkward improv.

This is simply speculation, but I’d be willing to wager that “Crisis” was originally little more than a rejected Allen script from the ‘80s, brought back to life and stretched well beyond its limits per Amazon’s requests. Allen has gone on record saying that his decision to make this series was a “catastrophic mistake.” I don’t think the 80-year old man was ever truly committed to this project, and it shows. What we’re left with is a sloppy, poorly-paced slog that ranks near the bottom of Allen’s celebrated filmography.

The enterprise, however, isn’t entirely bereft of moments for diehard Allen fans to enjoy. There are a handful of jokes that elicited chuckles out of me, mainly spoken by characters who aren’t named Munsinger. Lewis Black and Nina Arianda have standout cameos, and Miley Cyrus has surprisingly good chemistry with John Magaro. One of the few standout scenes in the entire project features just the two of them, and it’s almost charming. The other standout moments don’t appear until the last of the six episodes (Black Panthers crashing a book club comprised exclusively of old Jewish women is objectively funny), but I can’t argue that the first 100 or so minutes are worth suffering through in order to get to it.

Watching “Crisis in Six Scenes” is like watching the death of your beloved childhood pet happen before your eyes. It seems like just yesterday that Allen was fine. “Café Society” was a lovely film that showed he was still capable of creating light, charming projects. But age has caught up quickly. Things don’t work like they used to, and what was once relatable neurosis has decayed into uncomfortable babbling. There are hopeful, albeit brief moments of what once was, but we all know that the inevitable is coming. Unfortunately, it might be sooner rather than later.