A neurotic housewife finds a cure to her bourgeois angst when she visits a wizardly Chinese acupuncturist.
Within its first few minutes Woody Allen's twentieth film - for which he justly received an Oscar nomination as screenwriter - accomplishes more than many movies manage before the lights go back up. Around Mia Farrow's breakfasting Alice swirl her Ivy League husband, too-chirpy nanny, housekeeper, trainer, decorator and matching accessory children. In a crossfire of dialogue on the fibre content of mangoes, weekend plans and a nagging backache, Allen completely nails the milieu, the lifestyle, the marriage of this pampered mousewife before liftoff into a wondrous flight of fancy. It's Allen's most audacious, bizarre work yet, at once a whimsical fable and a true cynic's assessment of love.
Alice, played as a joke on her own younger wistful dreamer schtick by Farrow, is vaguely sick of her life when she gets an itch for mystery man Joe Montegna and consults a cryptic Chinese acupuncturist for her malcontent's ailments. His treatment consists of magical substances that make her invisible, summon ghosts from her past and lead Alice to a string of startling discoveries. Some of these escapades are surreal, some slapstick and others zany in the extreme - as when a literally transparent Alec Baldwin as the shade of her dead first love takes Alice flying across Manhattan at night a la Superman and Lois, or when Bernadette Peters in yards of tulle materialises as Alice's muse.
The cast is priceless, with only a wooden Hurt letting the side down as the boring, philandering husband, and it's not until the obligatory Allen party scene when Alice encounters a bespectacled nerd played by someone else that one realises Woody himself is not in this film. Even more surprising, Allen conjures an unexpectedly down-to-earth but upbeat, positively feminist resolution to this intricate, deceptively fanciful meaning-of-life comedy.
Allen, in case anyone is in doubt, is a genius, and Alice a completely original, polished treat.