"I don’t want to make funny movies any more and they can’t force me to!" Evoking Fellini, Allen challenged his audience by dropping the nebbish persona he had built up over a decade on screen, and instead portraying a filmmaker as a brittle egoist, divorced from his fans, miserable in his personal life, and uncertain where to go next professionally.
"Allen plays Sandy Bates, a director who grudgingly fulfills a commitment to attend a retrospective of his films. There, famously, one of the fans on the reception committee gushes about his movies—”I especially like your early, funny ones.” The line has been canonized as the stock response of culture consumers who, having gotten used to artists’ work in one style or mode, hold them to it for life. Of course, this movie is about much more than the burden of celebrity—the cinematic retrospective gets Sandy to become inwardly retrospective about his own life. Allen didn’t have a whole lot to complain about—only a few years earlier, Annie Hall walked away with a parcel of Oscars, and his serious drama Interiors, though it didn’t win any, garnered five nominations—but Allen’s kvetches have never been about money or success but about existence itself. In Stardust Memories, Allen confronts the ultimate conundrum of the personal artist: all the stuff that gets in the way of the work becomes part of the work, then becomes essential to it. He kvetches, therefore he is—and therefore he can make a film about it and kvetch some more about doing so. The circularity of the self-consuming artist is reflected in the movie’s structure. It’s also a setup that invites catastrophe as a principle of creative destruction, and that, too, is something that Allen audaciously suggests in the film. The break in art that Allen refers to—between “the early, funny ones” and what came later—would also become breaks in life."
—Richard Brody, The New Yorker