Mia Farrow is Alice Tate, the way Diane Keaton was Annie Hall – a real-life inspiration for Woody Allen to make a romantic comedy that contrasts his urban Jewish intellectual take on sex, love, religion and death with the views of a woman from a strikingly different background. Instead of Annie the WASP, this time it’s Alice the Catholic. Alice is an overprivileged wife and mother. Her wonderland is Manhattan, where her stockbroker husband (nicely tweaked by William Hurt) gives her everything and her prime concern is holding on to her youth. Now, after sixteen years of marriage, faithful Alice is discontented. She dreams guiltily of having an affair with Joe, a divorced musician superbly played by Joe Mantegna. She remembers her childhood, when she yearned to become a nun and work for the poor like Mother Teresa. “Where did that part of me go?” she asks.
In Allen’s silly, spotty but at times witty and heartbreaking fairy tale, Alice finds some answers. But not in conventional ways. A Chinese doctor (Keye Luke) treats her with herbs that confer astonishing powers. Alice can temporarily become invisible. She spies on back-stabbing friends and watches Joe having kinky sex with his ex-wife (Judy Davis). Later, in a pricelessly funny scene, the shy Alice turns seductress and gives Joe a come-on to rival the moment Bacall taught Bogey how to whistle. It’s a pleasure to watch the underrated Farrow, too frequently trapped in dishrag roles (September, Another Woman), exercise her comedic flair.
Alice is visited by the ghost of a former boyfriend, played with welcome fire by Alec Baldwin, who flies her over New York by night. The scene is Superman-Lois Lane hokum, but when Alice and her ghost lover later share a dance and memories at a deserted resort, the rapturously romantic mood turns rueful. Alice is forced to make some difficult choices on her own – with no herbs to help her. Alice may be a minor work in the Allen canon, but when its grace notes manage to be heard above the whimsy, they ring true.