‘Allen v. Farrow’: Docu on 29-year-old sexual abuse case a moral reckoning in the age of #MeToo
It’s more a case of David and Goliath than “Batman v Superman.” Indeed, while the two conflicting parties grappling for their versions of the truth in HBO’s explosive four-part documentary “Allen v. Farrow” are both Hollywood celebrities, you don’t need to be an expert at rocket science to realize just how powerful one is compared to the other.
We’re talking about four-time Oscar-winning writer-actor-director Woody Allen (“Annie Hall,” “Manhattan,” “Hannah and Her Sisters”) and his muse-turned-nemesis actress Mia Farrow (“Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Great Gatsby”).
In the ’80s and early ’90s, the fabled couple did 13 films together. Woody, who’s now 85 years old, has made a film every year for 40 straight years, and is now preparing to shoot his 51st film—how prolific can you get?
Woody and Mia were considered a Hollywood power couple until their 12-year romance (they never married and lived in separate houses) began to crumble under the weight of sexual abuse allegations against the well-loved filmmaker involving Dylan, his then 7-year-old (adopted) daughter with Mia.
The dastardly deed happened one fateful day in 1992 when Allen, during a visit, took Dylan to the attic and allegedly ordered her “to just focus on my brother’s train set” while he sexually assaulted her. Thereafter, the “effervescent and outgoing” child became increasingly “shy and withdrawn.”
As it examines the catastrophic effects of trauma on a family, “Allen v. Farrow,” helmed with care and uncommon insight by the Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated tandem of Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering (“On the Road”), goes behind decades of sensational headlines to reveal the private story of one of Tinseltown’s most notorious scandals. But it’s a story that has remained as relevant now as it was in the ’90s—a cautionary tale that plays out like America’s moral reckoning in the age of the #MeToo Movement.
‘Apropos of Nothing’
Woody’s side of this sordid story can be gleaned from clips culled from the audiobook version of his 2020 memoir, “Apropos of Nothing.”
The crime docu doesn’t just look into the shocking custody battle that followed, it also weighs in on the revelation of Woody’s relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, the adopted daughter Mia raised as her own soon after Soon-Yi’s biological mom abandoned her on the streets of Korea.
Mia and Woody’s relationship actually began to unravel after the former found raunchy Polaroid photos of Soon-Yi in Woody’s apartment. “And they’re not the type you’d see in Playboy,” Mia recalled. “It’s more like [those you’ll see in] Hustler!”
The director said his relationship with Soon-Yi only began after her first semester in college in 1991 when she was 21, but court testimony says it had begun years earlier. In 1997, at age 62, Woody married Soon-Yi, who was then 27 years old. They have two kids.
As the docu’s production notes aptly describes, the series “interweaves new investigative work,” meticulously pieced together via intimate home movies, court documents, police evidence, revelatory videotape and never-before-heard audio tapes between Mia and Woody.
After the incident in the attic, Mia recorded Dylan’s recollections in a series of home videos taped over a period of two days because she couldn’t reach her therapist, who was away on holiday.
The film is far from speculative. In fact, it includes exclusive interviews with 76-year-old Mia; Dylan, now 35; and dashing New Yorker journalist Ronan, Mia’s blond-and-blue-eyed biological son with Woody, who’s rumored to have been sired by the actress’ ex-husband Frank Sinatra.
‘Great art, horrible people’
There are also revelatory insights shared by family friend Carly Simon, prosecutor Frank Maco (who found “probable cause,” but didn’t want to subject the young Dylan to further traumatization from a very public trial), activist Gloria Steinem, relatives, investigators, experts and other firsthand eyewitnesses—many of them speaking publicly about the events for the first time.
Also featured are top journalists and film critics weighing in on the “great art, horrible people” debate, with one rationalizing, “Acknowledging his work increases the power he is able to abuse.”
Likewise discussed are the issues of “transactional access journalism,” which contributes to Hollywood’s “selective morality” (Dylan wrote an article for LA Times asking why Woody has been spared by the #MeToo Movement), and the so-called “parental alienation syndrome,” used to discredit Mia as an unfit mother, portraying her instead as a vindictive partner who concocts a damaging story after finding out that her lover is in love with her daughter. Can you get any more salacious than that?
Another fascinating interviewee in the series is Christina Englehardt, who was Woody’s “secret” girlfriend for six years—a romance that began when she was a 17-year-old schoolgirl (when Woody was 42).
The scandal divided Mia’s family: Moses, another adopted son, doesn’t believe the abuse ever happened, while Soon-Yi, now 50, claimed in a no-holds-barred 2018 interview with New York magazine that her estranged mother was an “abusive tyrant who beat her with hairbrushes, called her ‘moronic,’ and would hold her upside down ‘because she thought that blood going to my head would make me smarter.’”
Even Hollywood has been polarized by the issue: Woody has found “allies” in some of his former actors, including Diane Keaton (“Annie Hall”), Javier Bardem (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”), Adrien Brody (“Midnight in Paris”), and even Cate Blanchett (“Blue Jasmine”), who was once quoted as saying that “it’s a family issue that should be resolved privately.”
In contrast, both Selena Gomez and Timothée Chalamet reportedly donated their talent fees for 2019’s “A Rainy Day in New York” to charity, while Colin Firth, Greta Gerwig, Rebecca Hall, Mira Sorvino, Kate Winslet, Reese Witherspoon and Natalie Portman have all denounced Woody and the long-delayed perception of injustice. After all, what makes Woody’s “alleged” crime any less different from those committed by Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacy and their ilk?
For his part, it took Ronan a long time to muster the courage to ask his sister about that awful day in 1992—an intimate moment between the siblings that eventually proved cathartic for both.
In 2014, when the Golden Globes gave the Cecil B. DeMille Award to Woody, Ronan mocked the honor with a scathing tweet: “Missed the Woody Allen tribute—did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age 7 before or after ‘Annie Hall’?”
That gesture of support, Dylan says in the docu, made her cry because it helped validate what a lot of people have been trying to dismiss for a long time—for 29 years, to be exact.
Dylan, who’s now married and with a daughter of her own, has just released her first Young Adult novel (“Hush”). She said spilling her guts for the documentary has allowed her to reclaim some of her self-worth. She’s more than grateful for the heartwarming bonds of family that have kept her from disintegrating.
“Allen v. Farrow” premieres at 10 a.m. on Feb. 22 exclusively on HBO (channels 54/168 on SkyCable; channels 53/210 on Cignal) and HBO Go, with a same-day encore at 10 p.m. on HBO. New episodes will be aired subsequent Mondays at the same time.
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