Letting go of Woody Allen with the help of Claudia Weill
Woody Allen’s name is synonymous with New York City Jewry and avant-garde art; he is the poster boy for the guilt ridden, philosophically burdened, emotionally stunted kvetcher that we are all familiar with. Allen’s characters are recognizable—carrying pieces of our relatives, our community members, and ourselves. Annie Hall, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Manhattan, and Fading Gigolo, to name a few, place a strong emphasis on Jewish culture and idiosyncrasies, connecting to both a broad, general audience, that responds to the novelty, and to the specific tastes of Jews.
It is easy to laud Allen for his illustrious movie career, to enjoy his unique sense of humor, to identify strongly with the stories he tells, to feel a little naches at seeing a “member of the tribe” making it big. Yet as Jews, Jews who may feel a strong sense of loyalty to Allen and his cinematic yiddishkeit, we must strongly reconsider our ardent support of this director, actor, and musician. My own opinions of Allen are far from conclusive, but I am currently in the process of reconciling the onscreen figure that I admire with the man who married his stepdaughter and who was accused of sexual abuse. To those who believe viewers should separate Allen’s personal life from his art: In Manhattan, Allen’s character, 42-year-old Isaac Davis dates a 17-year-old girl, a fact that is never addressed or acknowledged as illegal at any point during the film. As a feminist Jew who champions the rights of women, condemns those who blame the victim, and has no tolerance for individuals who cannot respect consent and boundaries, I can no longer accept Woody Allen as a representative and icon of my Jewish identity.
Despite my eagerness to wash my hands of him, I’ve found the task difficult since I genuinely enjoy watching his movies. What has made it much easier though, is a non-Woody Allen movie I happened upon a little over a year ago, and has since become my favorite. Girlfriends, directed by Claudia Weill is everything I was looking for in Woody Allen’s films, but didn’t realize I wasn’t receiving. Set in New York during the 1970s, it follows Susan Weinblatt, a struggling, young photographer who shoots weddings and Bar Mitzvahs to support herself while trying to get her own gallery showing. It tracks her romantic entanglements with the married Rabbi Gold, whom she works for, and classic NJB, Eric. Although it does not dominate the whole storyline, the focal point of Girlfriends is Susan’s relationship with her best friend, Anne Munroe, an aspiring writer, which only complicates once Anne gets married and moves out of the city.
Girlfriends has everything that attracted me to Woody Allen’s films in the first place—the neurosis, the allure of 20th century New York City, the confessional nature of the dialogue, and obviously the prominent yids—but delivers so much more. Just as Allen’s films are self-referential, so to is Weill’s. But where Allen’s self-reference makes me nauseous, Weill’s feels relevant, with Susan’s certain brand of self-doubt being unique to women. After all, Claudia Weill, a Jewish woman from New York City, created Girlfriends as an exploration of her own Jewish American identity.
Susan (played by Melanie Mayron, also Jewish) is the perfect protagonist in that she isn’t to be taken too seriously. Despite her narcissism and missteps in her relationships, you just can’t hate Susan because she’s so ridiculous. She’s awkward, she fumbles around a lot, she’s emotive—her life as displayed on screen is painfully real. Susan wouldn’t be considered the ideal protagonist in any other movie. She’s the type of woman typically relegated to the role of the trusted best friend/sidekick. In Girlfriends, she gets her screen time over the usual willowy, lovable blonde, which makes the movie all the better.
What impresses me most about Girlfriends is that to my knowledge, it was the first of its kind. Only in the last decade or so have we seen a surge of Jewish, women creatives in mainstream culture. Shows like Broad City, Girls, and Transparent are lauded as revolutionary and boundary breaking, and rightfully so, but nearly forty-years earlier, Girlfriends was released without ever making it out of its low-budget, indie film shell. Back then it was seen as niche, but today it’s relevant. I’d like to think that we are currently experiencing a renaissance of sorts. It is my hope that this surge of Jewish, feminist artistry will meet our collective, cultural needs, rather than Woody Allen.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Green, Noam. "Letting go of Woody Allen with the help of Claudia Weill." 21 March 2016. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 25, 2021) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/letting-go-of-woody-allen-with-help-of-claudia-weill>.