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What makes HBO's Allen v. Farrow devastating is that it isn't packed with explosive revelations

  • "Allen v. Farrow makes it uncomfortably clear that Dylan (Farrow)'s truth was always out there — but we chose to listen to her father, because he had the megaphone of celebrity," says Kristen Baldwin of the four-part HBO docuseries from directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering on sexual abuse allegations against Woody Allen. "It's particularly galling, given how Allen built his brand with movies that romanticized the older-man-libidinous-younger-woman dynamic. (That theme is explored in queasy-making detail in episode 2.) By the time the series jumps ahead to Allen receiving a standing ovation at the Academy Awards in 2002 — well, anyone who was an adult at the time should find it hard not to squirm. What makes Allen v. Farrow all the more devastating is that it isn't packed with explosive revelations — it just puts all the evidence together and lays it at our feet. At times the series meanders and would have benefitted from a tighter edit, especially when it attempts to touch on the broader cultural meaning of Allen's legacy and the Möbius strip dilemma of 'separating the art from the artist.'"


    • Allen v. Farrow is an overwhelming documentary series; its emotional intensity should come with a trigger warning: "The emotional anchor of Allen v. Farrow is Dylan, who finally gets to patiently tell her story," says Saloni Gajjar. "It’s wrenching to watch her recount the traumas she experienced from a very young age, starting with Allen’s possessiveness over her (corroborated here through interviews with different people: babysitters, a tutor, siblings, family friends, her mother). At one point, she has a visceral physical reaction akin to a panic attack while thinking about all of it. These aren’t easy things to remember, let alone talk about and be judged on by audiences. But the filmmakers do an admirable job of giving her the time and space to discuss it. The most stirring part comes from videos of Dylan as a child that Mia filmed over two days, in which she describe specifics of the sexual assault she accuses Allen of. Fair warning: The description can be graphic. But Allen v. Farrow doesn’t want to define Dylan solely by her past. “I am tired of feeling that he matters more than me,” she says toward the end, while reflecting on why she started speaking out more at the onset of the #MeToo era. Allen v. Farrow also ends up being a scathing story about worshipping celebrities and celebrity culture which inevitably creates a landscape that impacts the delivery of justice in cases like this one. Ultimately, it’s an intriguing docuseries that will interest those invested in the case to reexamine it through the lens of four compelling, often uncomfortable episodes."
    • Allen v. Farrow should be the final nail in the coffin of Woody Allen's legacy: The docuseries "goes beyond the scandalous headlines and makes a compelling argument that Allen got away with the unthinkable thanks to his fame, money and revered standing in the world of film — and that a little girl never received justice," says Lorraine Ali. "The documentarians pored over years of custody trial evidence, home movies, recorded phone conversations, photo exhibits and more, piecing together a harrowing picture of Allen as an abuser and master manipulator and Dylan as his silenced, disbelieved victim." She adds: "Allen v. Farrow may change your own perspective on Allen and his work. This is the story of the girl who spoke out against her dad, was silenced, lived in shame for decades and decided it was time to speak truth to power. And what’s more powerful than that? Certainly not an Allen movie."
    • Allen v. Farrow is a tough documentary to take in, but it's worth watching: "I started the four-part series, which premieres Sunday at 9 p.m., about as eager to watch it as I am to take in more of Kellyanne and George Conway’s tabloid family drama, which is to say not at all," says Matthew Gilbert. "I haven’t got time for the pain — of watching other families’ psychodramas, of watching more true-crime tabloid headlines ride across the screen, and of watching the details of a case that will never be solved. But I’m really glad I saw it. It lets Dylan, now 35, married and a mother, finally tell her own story at length. And it starkly reminds us of the serious strains of denial and hypocrisy in our culture regarding sexual abuse and incest, especially in the period before #MeToo. For reasons that go back a long way in our patriarchal and fame-worshiping culture, the series makes clear, many people have been just too happy to accept Allen’s demonizing of Mia Farrow as a scorned woman jealous of daughter Soon-Yi, whom Allen married, and using her daughter Dylan for vengeance."
    • Allen v. Farrow is a scathing indictment of Woody Allen that is also heavy-handed and undermining: "It’s visual melodrama verging on moral panic over a guy whose reputation as a creepy monster is well-established, and thus requires no embellishment," says Andrew Crump. "Dick and Ziering don’t simply present the facts. They also beg the question. Grant that, by now, no doubt should linger in anyone’s mind that Allen did indeed assault Dylan, and any doubts that do linger will honestly be shattered by Allen v. Farrow even if you used to be his most staunch supporter. Grant also that absent doubt, no emphasis on his guilt through melodramatic direction is needed and dubious assertions from talking heads should’ve been cut entirely: Farrow family friends up to and including Carly Simon spout insubstantial nonsense that adds nothing to Kirby and Ziering’s examination, and in fact, undermines it, while professional film critics argue that Allen warped his entire filmography around age discrepancies in his screen romances just to groom his audience into tolerating his relationship with Soon-yi.  Is it wrong and icky and gross that Allen pursued her? Of course. Is his work’s obsessive fixation on relationships between men in their 40s and women in their 20s uncomfortable at best? Absolutely. Are culture journalists and members of Farrows’ unbiased support system qualified to conduct high-end psychological reading? Not in the slightest, and when Allen v. Farrow casually airs armchair analysis, it lessens and undercuts its authority over the material. But if the series suffers from its own pretense, it’s sustained by Dylan’s unflappable testimony. Some people are okay not knowing the truth. They’re content to look the other way. Allen v. Farrow justifies itself when all anyone can look at is Dylan, but so frequently undercuts (and even debases) itself, and her, through overbearingly crummy technique."
    • Missteps limit the intellectual heft of Allen v. Farrow: "Using Dylan’s account of what happened as its centerpiece, supported by newly presented documents, audio and video recordings (the doc isn’t great at clarifying what exactly is never-before-seen/heard and what’s merely been resurfaced), it’s a harrowing watch," says Daniel Fienberg. "But there’s a difference between criticizing the survivor and criticizing the project constructed around her — which is important to note, because Dick and Ziering have made choices that don’t always work and built arguments that aren’t as convincing as Dylan’s own words." He adds: "Dick and Ziering set out to debunk common arguments made by Allen defenders. They showcase experts who discredit the Yale-New Haven Hospital report on Dylan — a primary piece of supporting documentation for Allen’s contention that Dylan either wasn’t being truthful or had been coached by Mia. They put Allen’s victory lap after Connecticut prosecutor Frank Maco decided not to bring charges, despite 'probable cause,' in proper context (Maco didn’t want Dylan to have to endure the pressures of taking the stand). But they aren’t as thorough with refutations when it comes to 'the other side.' Moses Farrow has accused Mia of abuse and claimed Dylan was lying. Family members here call him a liar, and move on. Any claims made by Soon-Yi are even more critically dismissed, and there’s an occasional viciousness to how she’s treated in the doc. (Believe them or don’t, but the dynamic within the Farrow clan is unquestionably more complicated and fraught than what is acknowledged here.) Neither Moses nor Soon-Yi participated in Allen v. Farrow — nor did anybody who voices even superficial support for Allen. Rather, Allen is represented by passages from the audiobook version of his recent memoir, as well as phone conversations with Mia that the latter surreptitiously taped in the wake of their breakup. And it has to be said: Nobody defends Woody Allen worse than Woody Allen."
    • Allen v. Farrow goes hand in hand with Leaving Neverland and Framing Britney Spears: "Allen v. Farrow is not merely an indictment of Woody Allen or even an indictment of those who have unequivocally stood by him, though some of the actors he has worked with, including Diane Keaton and Scarlett Johansson, don’t come out of this documentary looking particularly great," says Jen Chaney. "Really, it’s a damning critique of the institutions and power structures, from Hollywood to New York City’s government to the criminal justice system to the media, that have some investment in making sure that certain men in power stay there. It joins another HBO documentary, Leaving Neverland, which turned Michael Jackson’s long-rumored status as a child abuser into something nearly impossible to refute, as a story about how readily society can turn a blind eye toward abuse when famous people are involved. The series is also about how historically easy it has been to dismiss women and girls — to dub someone like Mia Farrow a vindictive, scorned woman, for example, and then cement that narrative in the press. In that sense, as a look back at the way a celebrity’s personal crisis was covered with 2021 vision, Allen v. Farrow also shares some things in common with the recent The New York Times Presents: Framing Britney Spears. The breadth of what the series tackles makes it much more compelling and thought-provoking than it would have been as a strict rehash of the Farrow-Allen split."
    • Allen’s absence from the documentary is nagging at first, but as you get into the third and fourth hours, it becomes unwelcome: "If Allen has had it rough for the past three years, Allen v. Farrow reminds us that he still had it great for 25," says Ben Travers. "A talk show clip at the start of Episode 4 features a mid-’90s Allen saying the court cases never really affected him; he got to keep making movies, keep working with anyone he wanted, and keep being honored at Hollywood’s most prestigious award shows, including the Oscars. For 25 years, he got to shape the headlines around these accusations, while issuing further denials in interviews, on talk shows, via press conferences, and in court, all of which earned an abundance of media attention. Allen v. Farrow offers Dylan and Mia the microphone. They may not be saying anything unprecedented or surprising (horrifying yes, but not surprising), and that’s part of the point. The documentary is convincing for those who still need convincing, but it’s also looking forward while looking back."
    • Co-director Amy Ziering doesn't feel the docuseries is one-sided: "Well, I think you have to look at the whole conceit of sides," she says. "I mean, honestly. What’s interesting or strange about that to me is I look at it as what we did was an investigation and we sought the truth and we’re presenting the truth in an accurate presentation of events. Whenever we get into this discussion of sides, it’s always very strange or peculiar to me, because it’s a new event that’s happened in recent decades that really wasn’t that prevalent back in the ’70s or ’80s, and I think it’s a relic — actually a legacy of Fox News, which always, of course, the irony was there. They’re fair and balanced, which it was anything but. What you do when you say we need 'sides' is you go everything is all about opinion. There’s no fact or truth. That’s what happens when you say there’s sides to an argument. It’s like climate change. If we’re going to talk about climate change, we have to get someone who has the other side of it. No, climate change is an empirical fact. We don’t really need to hear from a climate change denier because they’re talking out of motives of profit and interest. Exactly."
    • Ziering says the docuseries "really is a mirror to our society at large": "The way these crimes go unpunished and all the reasons they do, the way that all of us are unwittingly and wittingly complicit to some degree," she says. "Woody's persona disarmed all of us. We have this celebrity culture, and that gives them this shield of impunity. We imbue them with a certain trust and a love and then can't believe or hear the cognitive dissonance. We give their crimes cover."
    • Ziering says the docuseries is about complicity, the power of celebrity, the power of spin, how we all are viral and will believe something that’s repeated enough

    TOPICS: Allen v. Farrow, HBO, Amy Ziering, Dylan Farrow, Kirby Dick, Mia Farrow, Woody Allen, Documentaries

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