Allen v. Farrow (TV Review)

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

HBO, Amy Ziering, Kirby Dick, Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, documentary, Allen v. Farrow

Plot: From award-winning investigative filmmakers Kirby Dick & Amy Ziering and Amy Herdy, Allen V. Farrow a four-part documentary series that goes behind decades of sensational headlines to reveal the private story of one of Hollywood’s most notorious and public scandals: the accusation of sexual abuse against Woody Allen involving Dylan, his then seven-year-old daughter with Mia Farrow; their subsequent custody trial, the revelation of Allen’s relationship with Farrow’s daughter, Soon-Yi; and the controversial aftermath in the years that followed. Once celebrated for their on and off-screen partnership, Farrow and Allen’s lives were irrevocably fractured and their sprawling family is torn apart with the public disclosure of the abuse allegations and the vitriolic disputes that followed. 

HBO, Amy Ziering, Kirby Dick, Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, documentary, Allen v. Farrow

Review: Woody Allen is one of the most famous people of the last sixty years. His name alone conjures very different reactions depending on whom you ask. Some will know him as the legendary director of movies like Annie Hall, Sleeper, Blue Jasmine, and more. Others will know him because of his well=publicized divorce from Mia Farrow and subsequent marriage to one of her adopted children, Soon Yi Previn. Others will associate Allen with the equally publicized accusations of sexual abuse levied against him by his daughter, Dylan. In light of the Me Too movement in recent years, it is likely the latter is the first thought that comes to mind. Now, HBO is poised to add fuel to the fire with a four-part documentary chronicling the crimes from the perspective of Mia and Dylan Farrow. The result is a shocking and challenging look at a very famous person that will surely elicit some difficult debate much like HBO's equally controversial Leaving Neverland did in regards to Michael Jackson.

Like many true crime documentary series these days, stretching a story many have read extensively about for decades may seem like it will be bloated with filler to allow for multiple nights of programming. Surprisingly Allen v. Farrow never seems like it is treading water with each episode chock full of home video footage shot by Mia Farrow alongside interviews with the actress and her children Dylan and Ronan. What is missing are interviews with members of the other side, notably Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn. Allen is seen throughout the series in the form of previously recorded interviews as well as excerpts from the audio edition of his 2020 memoir Apropos of Nothing. This ends up making the documentary feel less like Allen v. Farrow and more appropriately like The Case Against Woody Allen. Either way, the case is a compelling one that absolutely tugs at the emotional elements of the allegations even if it never produces hard evidence that we have not heard or seen before.

Directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering are very familiar with investigating allegations of a sexual nature. Their previous collaborations include looks at accusations against Russell Simmons (On the Record), rape on college campuses (The Hunting Ground), in the military (The Invisible War), and within the Catholic Church (Twist of Faith). What sets Allen v. Farrow apart from those other projects is the extended running time of four hours which gives the filmmakers ample time to set up the character of those involved. The episodes dive into Mia Farrow's rise to fame as an actress and her motivation to be a mother to a large family as well as how her relationship with Woody Allen came to fruition. This is all highlighted with clips from their work individually and together. The film also serves as a cathartic platform for Dylan Farrow to expunge all of her years of trauma in a way that ultimately paints a very damning portrait of the man she says abused her.

But, the challenge when reviewing this documentary is in looking at what type of film this is. Dick and Ziering's previous films were just as damning of the abusers and rapists they called out but did so with a cinematic and balanced look at the case. Allen v. Farrow is far less-balanced and far less cinematic. Presented in a very straight-forward manner, this is less a movie and more like an extended 20/20 or Dateline expose that pulls together all the disparate coverage of this story into one, comprehensive work. Yet it is still missing the very important perspective that would have worked had Woody Allen been a participant. Even if they had extended that offer, I doubt Woody Allen would have even considered taking part, but it makes this a misleading production nonetheless. That being said, it is all but impossible to finish this documentary and not come out of it convinced of Allen's guilt.

HBO, Amy Ziering, Kirby Dick, Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, documentary, Allen v. Farrow

With a glut of true-crime programming on every network and service, I was anticipating that there would be more evidence on display in this series. Instead, Allen v. Farrow relies on emotional testimonials from the Farrow/Previn clan as well as friends who witnessed questionable interactions between Woody Allen and Farrow's children. Over the four episodes, Mia Farrow spends more time on screen than anyone else which tends to skew the objective nature of this as a documentary. Similar to the recently buzzed-about Framing Britney Spears, Allen v. Farrow is a one-sided look that is supported by lots of filmed documentation from years of publicly available news coverage. While not a court of law, there is going to clearly be a judgment in the court of public opinion, and after this series finishes airing, it is going to be hard to believe that Woody Allen may ever work in Hollywood ever again.

Allen v. Farrow draws clear sides between those who believe Dylan Farrow's accusations and those who support Woody. Nothing in this series brings to light evidence we have not already known from tabloids or previous exposes on the case. It does lay them out in such a way that Dylan Farrow's own voice is far more convincing than hearing it from her mother or brother. Allen v. Farrow spends so much time with Mia, Dylan, and Ronan that you never doubt for a moment that Woody Allen is guilty. That alone may make up your mind as to whether or not you want to invest four Sundays in watching this. What I can tell you is that it is compelling viewing even if it is (sadly) not as shocking as it should be. There is no arguing this is a well-executed production even if it is not nearly as balanced as it should have been.

Allen V. Farrow premieres on February 21st on HBO.

Allen v. Farrow (TV Review)



About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.