So as not to lose the opportunity of a lifetime, a once big-time filmmaker keeps his blindness a secret from studio honchos and directs a movie with a little help from his friends.
Val Waxman (Woody Allen) is an award-winning director who has jumped the shark and is now in Canada shooting deodorant commercials for nickels and dimes and, well, animal pelts. So when his ex-wife Ellie (Téa Leoni) and her new husband, slick Hollywood studio exec Hal Yeager (Treat Williams), ask him to helm Galaxy Pictures' next big-budget movie, he reluctantly signs the deal. Unfortunately, the script for The City That Never Sleeps reminds Val of his own failed relationship with his son and causes him to go psychosomatically blind. Poor Val doesn't want to lose this much-needed gig, and allows his agent Al (Mark Rydell) to persuade him to direct the film anyway, which means keeping his blindness a secret. To make matters worse, the publicity department has given a reporter from Esquire magazine the green light to cover the daily happenings on the set. Needless to say, no one can do a better job than Allen of talking and gesticulating to the air, walking into large objects and falling off sets.
Nervous and jittery like most of his characters, Woody Allen is hilarious as Val, and he makes the character's blindness completely believable. Allen's performance is priceless, especially in the scenes where he is out with Ellie; he tries his best to have a professional discussion with her, but constantly blurts out these Turrets-like comments about their breakup. Téa Leoni (Jurassic Park III) is superb and very natural in the role of Ellie--she has come such a long way since her short-lived 1995 television series The Naked Truth. Treat Williams (Venomous) and George Hamilton (Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles) are perfectly cast as glossy Hollywood tycoons while Mark Rydell (Intersection) personifies perfectly the loyal entertainment agent. Will & Grace's Debra Messing struts her big screen skills with her portrayal of Lori, the ditzy aspiring actress and Val's live-in girlfriend, but much like sultry Tiffani Thiessen's (The Ladies Man) part, her role is rather small.
Allen has written a clever satire of Hollywood films and what goes on behind the scenes. When his character Val loses his vision and exclaims that he will not be able to direct the film, his agent Al responds, ''Have you seen some of the pictures out there?'' The rest of the film never lets up, down to the film's crowd-pleasing ''Hollywood Ending.'' There are quick-witted jabs at everyone and everything, especially West Coast culture. The film even pokes fun at itself sometimes: Messing's character Lori leaves for an extended stay at a fitness spa early on in the film and when she finally returns, Ellie comments, ''I forgot about her.'' Well so had we all. Allen also drops a lot of little references that will leave you wondering. For example, his character mentions that when his first wife left him, she changed their son's name. (Wasn't Seamus, Allen's real life son with Mia Farrow, once called Satchel?) Although there are some preachy moments, including a dinner party scene where the characters discuss their favorite Hitchcock film, the film is witty and entertaining.
Hollywood Ending is a shrewd and very funny look at Tinseltown and the people who make it tick. It's a must see not only for Woody Allen enthusiasts but for all entertainment junkies. It's also one of those films, however, that you may have to see twice to appreciate fully.