This movie is simply the best self-parody ever done. In the poetry world I'm sometimes sneered at because self-parody is considered self-indulgent, usually by pinchy-faced critic types as opposed to the people who don't mind seeing the whole truth, whether that truth allows someone to be egotistical or not. So, predictably, critics were a bit snarly about Woody's new level of self-indulgence. In fact, the first time I saw the movie, I too was a bit upset about it, (and I'm not a literary snob).
In fact, after all these years, it turns out the film is raw talent and genius with some of the funniest romantic-horror-comedy scenes of all time. The highlights of the movie are quite simply two scenes. The first is the argument between Woody and Judy Davis, a real high-energy scene, complete with harrowing action. But the apex of the film is the final conflict between Kirstie Alley and Woody, which is just the best couples' argument scene that has ever been produced. Woody is good in the scene in that he keeps interjecting jokes in what should be a deathly serious thing, and he plays the "calm abuser," a type toward whom I have much bitterness, brilliantly. But it is Kirstie Alley who gives simply the best performance of her life in this scene. She is both frighteningly angry, in a way that is completely believable and yet she does hilarious things.
Of course he ongoing dialogue with his Jewish roots is very evident, and the conflict he has with his Judaic Fundamentalist sister and her similarly-oriented husband is classic.
Oh yeah, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus has a brief appearance that is sheer slapstick. She really is very funny and very sexy in this movie. Woody often disproves the critics, who by the way need to be disproved and mocked at every turn, when he takes actors that have been pigeon-holed by the critics and proves that they are great actors in their own right and, in fact, very convincing in diverse roles. (I'm a left-winger, but so are most of the movie critics. However, my form of leftiness doesn't include this "debunking" of people's careers or art. There is just some cynical urge in the critics to box people in, and it comes off practically like an edict or some authoritarian impulse. Sorry about the political note, but I sometimes have to take my fellow liberals to task, since conservatives do not have a corner on the market of pettiness.)
And, of course, we can never forget how wonderful it is when Woody takes a trip to Hell itself, which, it turns out, is ruled over by Bill Crystal, for subconscious reasons the movie itself will make clear). You never saw a Satan more comfortable in his own skin. The dialogue is funny and perverse, and a bit x-rated, so I can't quote much of it here, but it's some solid locker-room filth delivered by two men in suits looking quite classy as they do it. All of the contrasts here are excellent.
And, throughout the movie, as one who loves Woody would insist, the Psychoanalytic and Atheistic world view as they play out in their journeys through the subconscious and the conscious mind are sheer mythological and philosophical wonders. (I myself and not an Atheist, and am in fact very religious, but I really believes every belief system, including those differing from mine, have something great to give. In truth, Woody would agree with me in saying, whether or not there's a God, most people can't be trusted with religion, as the current wars display all too well. So I'm not at all hostile to Atheists, since they are usually more trustworthy than their spiritual counterparts, and I'm secure in my own spiritual feelings, so none of this threatens me.)
Now, if you are a person whose life is held together, and about to break apart, but not for a thin thread of romantic and philosophical constructs, this movie might not be for you. The first time I saw this movie, I wasn't strong enough to handle the truth of it. (This is very much a "you can't handle the truth" movie.) I have beliefs, but I'm not addicted to them. However, if you need to be right most of the time and you NEED to have your beliefs validated, you may want to skip this film. It's for folks who can be hit with the whole truth of their romantic and philosophical condition.