Roush Review: Revisiting a Celebrity Scandal in ‘Allen v. Farrow’
“Who on Earth could believe that of Woody Allen?” says Mia Farrow, acknowledging her uphill battle for credibility and peace of mind in HBO’s Allen v.Farrow, a riveting and far-reaching four-part docuseries about the celebrity scandal that tore a family apart while exposing sociological fault lines.
Tabloids gorged on the sensational fallout in 1992 when Farrow accused her revered filmmaking partner — who had begun an affair with her adult daughter, Soon-Yi — of sexually abusing Dylan, their adopted 7-year-old daughter, charges Allen has repeatedly denied. Directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering meticulously sift through the scorched earth of this shattering rupture, with revealing home movies of Farrow’s large and diverse family, reams of court documents, audio of taped phone calls between Mia and Woody, and a videotaped interview with Dylan that was used as evidence in a wrenching high-profile custody hearing.
The adult Dylan appears, breaking her silence to discuss on camera the pain and depression that followed her into adolescence and adulthood as Allen’s career continued to flourish, including his appearance at the 2002 Oscars where it seemed as if all of Hollywood had chosen to forgive or at least look the other way. But that was before the #MeToo movement, which gained momentum in 2017 after the revelations that brought down Harvey Weinstein — ironically, a story broken in part by Dylan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist brother Ronan (born Satchel), the biological offspring of Farrow and Allen. (Ronan, who says he has always believed his sister even though he initially worried about her going public, charges that Allen offered to fund his education if he’d side with his dad.)
Allen v. Farrow goes beyond the headlines to explore why it is that we’re so reluctant to accept the worst about our pop culture heroes, citing Michael Jackson — the subject of another outstanding HBO documentary, Leaving Neverland — Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski as other examples of superstars whose fans and critics have had to reckon with separating the artist from their art, if that’s even possible.
“People don’t give up trust easily,” says psychologist Anna Salter, a specialist in the treatment of sex offenders. But as the documentary critiques Allen’s own oeuvre, especially 1979’s Manhattan (in which Allen romances an underage character played by Mariel Hemingway), several cultural critics — including The Washington Post‘s Peter Marks (who covered the custody trial for The New York Times) — confess, “I could never watch another Woody Allen film again after this.”
Allen v. Farrow,Series Premiere, Sunday, February 21 (through March 14), 9/8c,HBO