Alice (1990): Woody Allen Oscar-Nominated Dramedy, Starring Mia Farrow

Alice, Woody Allen fable-fantasy-comedy, is inspired by Federico Fellini’s superior 1964 film, Juliet of the Spirits, starring Guilieta Masina.

Alice Tate (played by Mia Farrow, then Allen’s real-life companion), a spoiled and privileged¬†upper-class New York housewife, spends her days shopping, getting beauty treatments, gossiping with friends. Married to a wealthy man, Doug (William Hurt), for fifteen years, they have two children who are raised by a nanny.

In a brief encounter, she is smitten with Joe Ruffalo (Joe Mantegna), a handsome jazz musician and feels guilty about it.  Her turmoil causes backache, and she is referred to Dr. Yang, an Asian herbalist who hypnotizes her. She confesses that she was attracted to her husband for his looks and money.

Dr. Yang gives Alice ancient herbs that make her act on her feelings toward Joe Ruffalo. When the herbs wear off, Alice is appalled at her behavior. The next herbs she receives turn her invisible, and she spies on Joe going visiting his ex-wife Vicky. Much to Alice’s horror, they make love in Vicky’s office.

The next herbal remedy allows Alice to communicate with the ghost of her first lover, Ed, and the latter encourages her to find out more about Joe. Alice and Joe finally meet, under the pretense of their children having a ‘play-date’.

When her guilt bothers her, Alice returns to Dr. Yang, who gives her a pipe. While asleep, she has vivid dreams about her Catholic upbringing. She realizes she has lost her goals in her materialistic luxurious lifestyle, and the realization occurs at a fundraising in honor of Mother Theresa, Alice’s idol. After the fundraiser, Joe and Alice sleep together, and she falls for him.

Friends gossip about her and Joe, and Doug hears it too, though he has been having affairs, too. Invisible, Alice goes to his office party, and observes Doug kissing a colleague. Her invisibility wears off and she confronts Doug. Alice decides to leave Doug and to be with Joe, only to realize he has decided to reunite with his ex-wife, who still has feelings for him.

Stunned, Alice goes to Dr. Yang, who gives her one final packet of herbs, able to create a potent love potion. Alice seeks the advice of her sister Dorothy, who is having a Christmas party. The herbs get mixed in with the eggnog, and all the men become enamored with Alice, who then flees in panic.

Alice tells Doug that their marriage is over, declaring her intent to go to Calcutta and work with Mother Teresa. Doug doubts that Alice could survive without the luxuries, but he is wrong.

After meeting Mother Teresa, she becomes a new person. She returns to New York, moves into a modest apartment, and raises the children on her own.


Mia Farrow as Alice Smith Tate

Rachel Miner as 12-year-old Alice

Kristy Graves as 18-year-old Alice

Joe Mantegna as Joe Ruffalo

William Hurt as Doug Tate

Blythe Danner as Dorothy

Laurie Nayber as young Dorothy

June Squibb as Hilda

Holland Taylor as Helen

Peggy Miley as Dorothy’s maid

Robin Bartlett as Nina

Keye Luke as Dr. Yang

Judy Davis as Vicki

Alec Baldwin as Ed

Bernadette Peters as Muse

Cybill Shepherd as Nancy Brill

Gwen Verdon as Alice’s mother

Patrick O’Neal as Alice’s father

Diane Salinger as Carol

Bob Balaban as Sid Moscowitz

Caroline Aaron as Sue

James Toback as Professor

Elle Macpherson as a model

Lisa Marie as Office Christmas party guest

The film, which was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay, does not work as a comedy or fable fantasy, and Allen shows problems in juggling the tone from scene to scene.

However, as always, there are interesting moments, offered by the talented secondary characters, played by Joe Mantegna, Alec Baldwin, Blythe Danner, Judy Davis, Bernadette Peters, Cybill Shepherd, and others.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Screenplay (Original): Woody Allen

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context

The winner of the Original Screenplay Oscar was Bruce Joel Rubin for “Ghost.”


Orion (Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe)