How does Woody Allen attract such capable, beautiful women? That question applied equally to Allen's life and art and provided a wellspring of comedy back when he wooed and won Diane Keaton and Mia Farrow. But since the great tabloid breakup of Woody and Mia, precipitated by his romance with Farrow's adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, Allen and his women don't have everyone laughing anymore.
Woody does well by actresses: Judy Davis, Jennifer Tilly, and Dianne Wiest captured recent Oscar nominations (and Wiest a statuette). Oscar buzz has already anointed Mighty Aphrodite's Mira Sorvino, who gets to flex comedic muscle as an engagingly tacky hooker. Yet some critics wonder at the shrewish wives and dim-witted young things in his films. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd called Aphrodite in which Allen tries improving Sorvino's character ''a propaganda film.''
David Frankel, who directed Farrow in his Allenesque comedy, Miami Rhapsody, grants that recent material is suggestive: ''In Bullets Over Broadway you have people trying to do away with a woman who is in the way of art.'' But, he adds, Allen is ''consistently writing great roles for women.''
''He gives them large roles,'' New York Daily News film critic Jami Bernard allows, ''but they are often objects of ridicule. Mira Sorvino gives a really good performance, but it's a nasty thing to make her so stupid and coarse.''
''Look at his whole history,'' counters Jean Doumanian, Allen's producer (Allen declined to comment). ''Look at Annie Hall. Look at Another Woman. He really likes women.'' Maybe so. But, says Bernard, ''Woody Allen is both a blessing and a curse to actresses.''