No one — neither principals Woody Allen and Mia Farrow nor supporting characters Frank Sinatra and Andre Previn — comes off well in Fox’s first original miniseries.
Even Woody’s girlfriend and Mia’s adopted daughter, Soon-Yi Previn (Grace Una), comes off as a callow sap. But of course that’s all part of the trashy fun of what often, to writer Cynthia Cherbak’s credit, materializes as a bedroom farce written by a latter-day, second-hand Moliere or Feydeau.
On the other hand, as directed by Karen Arthur, there’s a darkening, sobering shadow at work here. Cherbak, besides relying on public-domain material, adapted her screenplay from two books: “Mia & Woody: Love and Betrayal,” by Farrow’s nanny Kristi Groteke (who plays herself in the movie), written with Marjorie Rosen, and “Mia: The Life of Mia Farrow,” by Edward Z. Epstein and Joe Morella. The result is clearly a leap over such recent Fox biopix on O.J. Simpson, Madonna and Roseanne.
Neither the reputation of Farrow (the very credible Patsy Kensit) nor Allen (the arm-flapping, physically suggestive Dennis Boutsikaris) is given much slack or quarter here. As for Sinatra (Richard Muenz) and Previn (Robert LuPone), their philandering arrogance helps to up Mia’s devastating sense of insecurity.
Part one offers the developing relationship between Mia and Woody after they meet at a New Year’s Eve party in 1979, and part two dramatizes the tumultuous breakup and child custody battle.
The movie’s strength is not in its depiction of Farrow’s life with Allen, but the flashbacks into Farrow’s Hollywood childhood and subsequent marriages, stardom and seeming co-dependency on all the kids she adopted (the number has now climbed to 13, making her a candidate for the Josephine Baker award).
For movieland voyeurs, Farrow, as dramatized here, brushes off a pass by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Jay Bajaj), betrays Dory Previn (Lynne Cormack), only to be repaid in spades, and overhears the crude Sinatra laugh before their nuptials , “I finally found a broad I can cheat on.”
Generally, Farrow is crazed one day, a cozy mother making sandwiches at the kitchen table the next.
Arthur’s direction nicely underscores some memorable lines, as when Allen, in the throes of the nasty breakup, tells Farrow, “I think we should use this incident as a way to deepen our relationship.”
Besides being called “a moral dwarf” by Farrow’s close friend and confidante Vicky Wickman (Gina Wilkinson), Allen’s final indignity is reserved for the custody judge (Michael Tait), who sums up Allen in public court as an “insensitive, self-absorbed” parent.
Meanwhile, for viewers weary of all the emotional carnage, bobbing up in literally split-second appearances are actors playing Robert Redford (in a scene from “The Great Gatsby”), Ava Gardner (in a striking white bathing suit, floating in a pool) and Roman Polanski (whom Sinatra brushes off as “a longhair”).