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Ray Winkler (Woody Allen) and his younger wife Frenchy (Tracey Ullman) are both exes: he an ex-con now dishwasher, she an ex-exotic dancer now Manhattan manicurist. When Ray wants to use their savings (her savings, actually) to finance a daring bank heist, his misadventures begin. But Frenchey turns out to be an asset when her home made cookies turn them into a fabulous business success. As Frenchy tries to better herself and get accepted into the bosom of New York society, she and very down-to-earth Ray fall out, and she attracts the attention of handsome young art dealer David (Hugh Grant). But as things turn out, their success was their worst enemy….

"Oh what a delicious Woody Allen sojourn! The misadventure of Educating Woody and wife in Small Time Crooks brings about some of the funniest Allen moments in years. Everything works – the crazy plot, the bitingly real characters, the one liners, the toe-tapping soundtrack and the splendid execution. Comfortably enveloped in my cinema seat, it's easy to be whisked away into Allen's wacky world of wit and wry observation. The whole film has that kinda comfortable feel. The married couple (Allen and Ullman are marvellous) bicker non-stop, and go from poor quarrelsome to vulgar-rich quarrelsome. Ah – human nature – ain't it grand – when you're watching someone else's domestics, that is. It's rags to ugly riches, pizzas to snails, Eliza Dolittle to No Fair Lady, domestic mahem to devastating dreams and Allen just being Allen, with all his irrepressible foibles, mannered eccentricities and gloriously irritating stumbling, bumbling ways. Great to see Elaine May (who could forget her with Walter Matthau in A New Leaf?) as the very dumb cousin who just can't help herself from saying the first inopportune thing that comes into her … mouth! She recalls with surprise how the only word her dyslexic husband could spell, was his name – Otto. And Hugh Grant makes for a super slimy opportunist. There's much to amuse and savour – gnomes in the bathroom, a harp for visual sweep, leopard skin abounds, a zoo of sculptured animals, a rug that lights up and a collection of leather pigs that we never see… As for the wardrobe – well, it's a great chuckle. Watch out for Woody wearing the most hideous tuxedo (plus coloured jackets to drone about), while Ullman gets tizzed up to a tee a la Ivana Trump, and carries it all off with the most disarming vulgarity. My favourite bit? There are lots, but the notion of memorising the dictionary in a bid to become genteel comes close. Of course, our Eliza only gets up to the letter 'A' and manages to misuse every word that starts with it! It's a happy hoot, and yes, beware the dreams you have – they may well come true!"
Louise Keller

"This is vintage (New York) comedy and filled with Woody Allen’s earliest styles of character-driven cabaret humour that has been worked into dialogue. And Tracey Ullman (America’s Julie Walters) delivers a Frenchy who is a delicious mixture of charm, chagrin and cheesecake in a bundle of energy wrapping. That she is too young for Woody seems a churlish observation after the good natured comedic mood of the film, and while true, it is possible to overlook; Woody Allen isn’t playing a romantic lead in this, after all. Elaine May (herself an ex comic) is a lesson in comic timing and delivery and worth the ticket price alone. The trad jazz that’s slipped in here and there is a subtle symbol of Allen’s ambiance ambitions for this film: the older he gets the more he looks backward to a time in New York when cabaret comedy and jazz were joint kings, as it were. There is no real reason for the soundtrack otherwise, since the film is contemporary and otherwise not really stylised, although there is great attention to wardrobe, since it becomes a comment on social position and taste – or otherwise. Allen himself plays his usual paranoid loser, but this time it’s a class down; he’s an ex-con with attitude and no pretentions. It’s an odd fusion of the Allen persona with a creation he’s trying to morph into. Allen dumbing down, you might say. The story is so-so but the delivery is great, and the ‘business’ that goes down so effortlessly is really entertaining. True, this is not a mainstream movie, and it has flaws, but it has such a simple and clear ambition – to amuse – that it charms us."
Andrew L. Urban

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TRACEY ULLMAN talks to Sandra Bordigoni about the movie and working with Woody Allen


CAST: Woody Allen, Tracey Ullman, Michael Rapaport, Tony Darrow, Jon Livitz, Elaine May, Hugh Grant, George Grizzard, Elaine Stritch

DIRECTOR: Woody Allen

PRODUCER: Jean Doumanian

SCRIPT: Woody Allen


EDITOR: Alisa Lepselter


RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 25, 2001


VIDEO RELEASE: July 25, 2001

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