Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Don't Drink the Water (1994 TV Movie)

Written, directed, and starring Woody Allen that is based on his 1966 play, Don’t Drink the Water is the story about an American family traveling through Europe where they find themselves in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. The TV film explores a family finding themselves in trouble in an Eastern Europe country as they hope to get out but things get complicated due to an ambassador’s son. Also starring Michael J. Fox, Julie Kavner, Mayim Bialik, Edward Herrmann, Josef Sommer, and Dom DeLuise. Don’t Drink the Water is a very funny TV film from Woody Allen.

Set during the Cold War, the film explores a family who find themselves stuck in an Eastern European country where chaos ensue as they hide out at the American embassy where they get stuck there for several weeks. With the help of an ambassador’s son who is very inexperienced with his job, the family does whatever to leave the embassy and the country but various problems ensue as they also to deal with bad food, a magical priest (Dom DeLuise), and all sorts of chaos as they don’t make anything easier for the embassy as they’re dealing with a visiting foreign dignitary.

It’s a premise that is quite simple as it’s told by a narrator (Ed Herlihy) who reveals a lot of the chaos that goes on as a young ambassador named Axel McGee (Michael J. Fox) tries to fill in for his father (Josef Sommer) who is back in the U.S. for a possible cabinet position. For the young McGee, the situation he has to deal with proves to be overwhelming as the American family he shelters prove to be more than they bargain for. Especially as the patriarch Walter Hollander (Woody Allen) is a neurotic caterer with very sensitive taste, his wife Marion (Julie Kavner) keeps calling everyone back in New Jersey, and their 20-year old daughter Susan (Mayim Bialik) who is engaged to be married. McGee tries to find ways to get them out of the country only causing more trouble where a lot of hilarity ensues.

Allen’s direction is quite simple as he shoots most of it in a soundstage set as an embassy with some shots set in some locations to create something that did feel like the Cold War is happening. Though there’s moments where the comedy can overwhelm things a bit and drag the story, the direction is still quite lively and intimate. Even as it has a few recurring gags and such where Allen wanted to maintain the sense of theatricality in the TV film. Particularly as Allen finds way to put the actors into a frame or create a setting where there chaos ensues. Despite its flaws, Allen still creates a very witty comedy about a family trapped behind the Iron Curtain.

Cinematographer Carlo Di Palma does excellent work with the cinematography as it‘s mostly straightforward for many of the film‘s interior scenes as well as a shots set in the exterior scenes. Editor Susan E. Morse does nice work with the editing from the opening use of stock footage for a montage on the Cold War to the more straightforward approach to cutting throughout the TV film. Production designer Santo Loquasto, with set decorator Susan Bode and art director Peter Eastman, does amazing work with the set pieces from the look of the embassy and its rooms.

Costume designer Suzy Benzinger does terrific work with the 60s-based clothes that the women wear along with the suits and casual clothes of the men. Sound editors Bitty O’Sullivan-Smith and Dan Sable do superb work with the sound from the way gunfire is sound to other things set in the location. The film’s music consists of classical pieces by Gheorghe Zamfir, Aram Khachaturyan, and Sandor Lakatos as it is played to elements of comedy and drama to display the sense of craziness in the TV film.

The casting by Juliet Taylor is brilliant for the ensemble that is assembled as it features some notable small performances from Robert Stanton and Rosemary Murphy as a couple of aides of the ambassador, Austin Pendleton as a chef who is constantly insulted by Walter, Vit Horejs as a Eastern European agent eager to capture the Hollanders, Erick Avari as the Emir’s aide, John Doumanian as the Emir, Josef Sommer as Axel’s father Ambassador McGee, and Edward Herrmann as McGee’s right-hand man in Mr. Kilroy. Dom DeLuise is hilarious as wannabe-magician Father Drobney as a man who also has contacts with a resistance group that can get the Hollanders back to America.

Julie Kavner is wonderful as Marion Hollander as a woman trying to adjust to her situation as she constantly cleans the embassy and take up all of the phone lines to call her relatives. Mayim Bialik is excellent as Susan Hollander as a young engaged woman who falls for Axel McGee while dealing with the craziness around her. Michael J. Fox is terrific as Axel McGee as a young ambassador trying to deal with the situation and the chaos as well as finding a way to get the Hollanders back to America. Finally, there’s Woody Allen in a fine role as Walter Hollander as a very nebbish and neurotic caterer where Allen does his usual persona where it does get a little overwhelming at times though he does provide some very funny moments.

Don’t Drink the Water is an entertaining comedy from Woody Allen that features some superb performances from Michael J. Fox, Dom DeLuise, Mayim Bialik, and Julie Kavner. While it’s a TV film that may be a minor project from Allen, it is still something that is very funny as well as something that fans of his work should see. In the end, Don’t Drink the Water is a very good TV film from Woody Allen.

Woody Allen Films: What's Up Tiger Lily? - Take the Money and Run - Bananas - Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) - Sleeper - Love and Death - Annie Hall - Interiors - Manhattan - Stardust Memories - A Midsummer's Night Sex Comedy - Zelig - Broadway Danny Rose - The Purple Rose of Cairo - Hannah & Her Sisters - Radio Days - September - Another Woman - New York Stories: Oedipus Wrecks - Crimes & Misdemeanors - Alice - Shadows and Fog - Husbands and Wives - Manhattan Murder Mystery - Bullets Over Broadway - Mighty Aphrodite - Everyone Says I Love You - Deconstructing Harry - Celebrity - Sweet & Lowdown - Small Time Crooks - The Curse of the Jade Scorpion - Hollywood Ending - Anything Else - Melinda & Melinda - Match Point - Scoop - Cassandra’s Dream - Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Whatever Works - You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger - Midnight in Paris - To Rome with Love - Blue Jasmine - Magic in the Moonlight - Irrational Man - (Cafe Society)

The Auteurs #24: Woody Allen Pt. 1 - Pt. 2 - Pt. 3 - Pt. 4

© thevoid99 2013

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