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Allen V. Farrow Review

February 20, 2021 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Allen V. Farrow Mia Dylan Ronan
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Allen V. Farrow Review  

“What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?” That’s the sentence that Dylan Farrow used to open and close her 2014 essay, published in the New York Times, in which she recounted her allegations that Allen – her father – sexually abused her. The open letter was her first time publicly speaking on the allegations that captivated the country in the early ‘90s amid tabloid reports on the criminal investigation into Farrow’s allegations and Allen’s attempt to wrest custody of her and her two brothers Moses and Satchel (now Ronan) from their mother, Allen’s longtime partner Mia Farrow. It was in response to the director receiving the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award at the 71st Annual Golden Globes, and it reopened public interest in the accusations almost four years before #MeToo became widespread and nine months before Bill Cosby’s history of sexual assault began to be relitigated in the public eye.

If it wasn’t an easy question for people answer then, HBO’s new four-part docuseries Allen V. Farrow (premiering Sunday night with new episodes weekly) is going to make it a lot harder. While Allen’s movies have become largely limited to European release in the last few years, the iconic filmmaker has otherwise avoided the fallout that some others like Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and (to a degree) Kevin Spacey have faced. However you feel about the allegations, it’s impossible to deny that part of that has to do with the powerful narrative that was spun by Allen’s PR team and defenders when the case unfolded in the early 1990s. Directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering set out to reexamine that narrative and give voice to the one person who was never able to speak at the time: Dylan Farrow.

The result is a potent, often difficult but expertly laid-out watch that recenters the narrative back on Dylan. Now an adult in her mid-30s, Dylan was just seven years old when Allen’s assault of her allegedly occurred. Much of Dick and Ziering’s four-part series goes over information that is has been well-documented and available to the public for years. We’ve heard Ronan Farrow discuss his family’s case before. And while Mia Farrow has been reluctant to speak at length on the matter for years, her words are available in public record. It is Dylan’s words which lend urgency to the series, allowing the victim a voice she was denied when Connecticut prosecutor Frank Maco declined to charge Allen despite probable cause out of concern for her wellbeing.

Allen V. Farrow Dylan Farrow

Dylan is the centerpiece of the docuseries, and while her name has often been in headlines over the last 30 years her voice has been absent, short of her two essays in which she discussed her assault. Here she speaks throughout the four episodes, and she is incredibly compelling in telling her story. Her recounting of her life and experiences with leading up to, during, and after the events of August 4th, 1992 add weight to Dick and Ziering’s series, even more so than her mother, Ronan, brother Fletcher, and her other siblings or friends of the Farrow family.

While many are familiar with the case – it is impossible to overstate how much the story captured the attention of America in 1992 – not everyone will be, and some elements were undeniably underreported in the wake of media spin. Dick and Ziering therefore structure the series chronologically, laying out the facts of the case. The first episode lays out Mia Farrow and Allen’s relationship and the growth of their family, followed by episode two’s delving into Allen’s relationship with Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi. Episode three covers Dylan’s allegation and the aftermath, with the fourth jumping ahead to Dylan’s open letter in the New York Times and what’s followed.

Throughout the four hour-long episodes, the directors re-examine the situation through a variety of sources and lay the groundwork for a convincing case against the writer-director. Interviews with friends and members of the Farrow family are supplemented with home movies shot by Mia, including the infamous but never-seen footage where she asked young Dylan about the allegations right after she found out. The court and investigative documents from Connecticut and New York are featured, as well as interviews with many of the investigators.

It must be said that neither Allen nor his regular defenders such as Soon-Yi (now his wife) and his son Moses are interviewed. (All three, as well as the authors of a criticized Yale New Haven Hospital report that found Farrow’s story lacking credibility, declined to be interviewed.) Allen’s side of the story is told through excerpts of his 2020 memoir, which he narrated the audio book for.

That said, it’s hard to criticize Dick and Ziering for not including more of Allen’s side of the story. Yes, this is only truly telling one side of the story, but the argument – compellingly made by Ronan and several others interviewed – is that Allen has been telling his side of the story for almost 30 years. Video of him appearing at press conferences and on talk shows in the aftermath show his words, and the docuseries makes mention of Soon-Yi and Moses’ speaking in support of their husband and father, respectively. What we do hear of Allen that is relatively new comes in the form of audio recordings of his and Farrow’s phone calls, and they are chilling in how sociopathic he seems.

 Allen V. Farrow Mia Farrow

Could this all be manipulation on Dick and Ziering’s part, allowing Mia to advance her narrative against Allen when in fact she is just (as Allen has always claimed) a woman scorned by Allen’s relationship with Soon-Yi? Of course. But it’s incredibly hard to hear Dylan’s words or the amount of evidence investigators found and be entirely comfortable with that assessment. What we do hear from Allen does nothing to acquit him, and the directors make a persuasive argument of how Allen’s defenses have actually been damaging to public treatment of not only the Farrows, but also family courts’ treatment of sexual abuse allegations in general.

Late in the series, Dick and Ziering touch on those larger implications, including the #MeToo movement and the way that the controversial-at-best theory of “parental alienation syndrome” has led to damaging effects in custody cases where sexual abuse is alleged. There’s also discussion about the “separating the art from the artist” argument made. All of these are topics that could fit in their own separate documentaries, and they do seem a bit brushed over here. But they are handled in a way by Dick and Ziering that strengthen their thesis and they provide a lot of food for thought.

It would be easy to say that this is a wholly depressing docuseries, but that would ignore how inspiring it is at times. Dylan has suffered a lot throughout the years, and she’s moving when she talks about how her voice has been discounted and dismissed as those of a girl who was fed fantasies that she came to believe. Whatever your beliefs about Allen, Dylan is a survivor, and her story comes through loud and clear. Whether it changes your opinion on Allen or not, Allen V. Farrow finally gives Dylan’s story the weight it deserves. And that in and of itself makes the series one well worth seeing.

Allen V. Farrow premieres on HBO Sunday night at 9 PM ET/PT, with successive episodes airing weekly after.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s Allen V. Farrow is far from the easiest watch that you’ll have this year, but then it really shouldn’t be. The HBO docuseries takes the evidence and interview regarding Dylan Farrow’s allegations against Woody Allen and puts together a very convincing argument, while also showing how the case is indicative of a larger problem in our treatment of sexual abuse allegations. Dylan’s presence adds a captivating element to the story, helping it stand as an arresting a story of one woman's fight to reclaim herself against an entire narrative spun for decades by what was once one of America's most powerful men.

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Allen V. Farrow, Jeremy Thomas