Susan Granger’s review of “HOLLYWOOD ENDING” (Dream Works)

Woody Allen has always been an eccentric outsider, someone who doesn’t fit in, both in films and in life. Yet he’s outrageously, authentically funny. He can make people laugh. And in this new romantic comedy, playing Val Waxman, a washed-up, hypochondriacal director, what separates him from everyone else is hysterical blindness. This psychosomatic affliction begins just as he’s starting his big-budget comeback Manhattan movie, “The City That Never Sleeps,” which is being produced by his sympathetic, supportive ex-wife (Tea Leoni) who’s now engaged to a studio boss (Treat Williams). As the complicated plot unfolds, Val’s trusty, loyal agent (Mark Rydell) tries to help him keep his condition secret. But the true hilarity of the satirical farce occurs when this ridiculous deception coincides with Val’s need to communicate his cinematic vision to his cast and crew. As always, Woody Allen’s movies question the durability of romance, deftly mixing humor and sentiment. “Sex is better than talking,” he says. “Just ask anyone here. Talking is what you have to suffer through to get to the sex.” And not since Diane Keaton has he had as sensational a co-star as Tea Leoni. She’s a captivating comedienne who plays perfectly off Allen’s incomparable comic timing, particularly in an inspired Bemelman’s Bar scene. Debra Messing scores as Val’s bimbo girlfriend; so does George Hamilton as a ‘yes-man’ studio exec. German cinematographer Wedigo von Schultzendorff, best known for horror mysteries, slips into the sophisticated Allen style with ease, just as Allen’s long-time production designer Santo Loquasto molds new costumer Melissa Toth. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Hollywood Ending is a delightfully inventive 8. It’s Woody Allen’s funniest – and best – movie in years!