The film opens on ancient Greek ruins where a chanting Greek chorus introduces and narrates the story of Lenny Weinrib. Lenny is a sportswriter in Manhattan, married to ambitious curator Amanda. The couple decide to adopt a baby, a boy they name Max. Lenny is awed by their son who, it becomes increasingly clear, is a gifted child.
Lenny becomes obsessed with learning the identity of Max's biological mother. After a long search, Lenny is disturbed to find that she is a prostitute and part-time porn star, who uses several names but confesses her birth name is Leslie, and she likes "Linda" because it means beautiful in Spanish, so her current porn star name is Linda Ash. Lenny makes an "appointment" to see her at her apartment. Linda is a bit of a ditz with a crude sense of humor and delusions of becoming a stage actress. Lenny does not have intercourse with her but instead urges her to get away from prostitution and start a wholesome life. Linda becomes angry, refunds Lenny's money, and forces him to leave. Lenny, however, is determined to befriend her and improve her life. He first manages to get Linda away from her violent pimp and then attempts to pair Linda with a former boxer, Kevin. They appear to be a well-suited couple until Kevin discovers Linda's background.
Meanwhile, Lenny and Amanda have been drifting apart, due to Lenny's obsession with Linda, but also Amanda's career and her affair with her colleague Jerry (Peter Weller). Amanda tells Lenny she wants to explore her relationship with Jerry. Lenny and Linda console each other over their break-ups, and end up finally engaging in intercourse. However, the next day Lenny reconciles with Amanda, and they realize that they are still in love. Linda tries unsuccessfully to get back with Kevin but on the drive back to Manhattan, she sees a helicopter dropping out of the sky. She pulls over and gives the pilot, Don, a ride. It is revealed by the Greek chorus that they will end up married, although Linda is now pregnant with Lenny's child.
Some years later, Linda (with her daughter) and Lenny (with Max) meet in a toy store. They both have each other's children but do not realize it. Linda thanks Lenny for everything he did to help her and then leaves Lenny dumbstruck. The film ends with the Greek chorus singing and dancing.Woody Allen as Lenny Weinrib
Mira Sorvino as Leslie / Linda Ash
Helena Bonham Carter as Amanda Sloan Weinrib
Michael Rapaport as Kevin
F. Murray Abraham as Greek Chorus Leader
Olympia Dukakis as Jocasta
David Ogden Stiers as Laius
Jack Warden as Tiresias
Danielle Ferland as Cassandra
Peter Weller as Jerry Bender
Claire Bloom as Mrs. Sloan
Dick Hyman served as the film's music coordinator, arranger, and conductor. The soundtrack includes "Neo Minore" performed by Vassilis Tsitsanis, "Horos Tou Sakena" by Stavros Xarchakos, "I've Found a New Baby" by Wilbur de Paris, "Whispering" by Benny Goodman & His Orchestra, "Manhattan" by Carmen Cavallaro, "When Your Lover Has Gone" by Ambrose & His Orchestra, "L'il Darlin" by Count Basie & His Orchestra, "Take Five" by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, "Penthouse Serenade (When We're Alone)" and "I Hadn't Anyone Till You" by Erroll Garner, "The In Crowd" by Ramsey Lewis, and "You Do Something to Me" and "When You're Smiling" by the Dick Hyman Chorus & Orchestra. Graciela Daniele choreographed the dance routines.
The Greek chorus includes George de la Peña and Pamela Blair. Tony Sirico and Paul Giamatti make brief appearances in minor roles.
Manhattan locations include Bowling Green, Central Park, and FAO Schwarz. Additional exteriors were filmed in North Tarrytown and Quogue. The Greek chorus scenes were filmed in the Teatro Greco in Taormina on the island of Sicily.
Mira Sorvino mentioned in a 2011 interview that she chose Linda's voice to be high and gravelly since "high voice kind of makes you sound less intellectually gifted, and the gravelly part just added this kind of rough-and-tumble, been-to-the-school-of-hard-knocks element to it." Four weeks into the production, Allen spoke with Sorvino asking if she had ever wondered about using a different voice. Sorvino stated that the voice affected how she approached the character, and that if she changed the voice the character changed. When she pointed out that they were four weeks into the movie Allen said, "Oh, that doesn’t matter. I have it written into my budget that I can reshoot the entire movie if I want."
In real life, Leonard "Lenny" Weinrib was the name of an American actor, voice actor, and writer best known for playing the title role in the children's television show H.R. Pufnstuf. He died in 2006.
Mighty Aphrodite debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival before going into limited release in the United States. It opened on 19 screens and earned $326,494 its opening weekend. It eventually grossed $6,401,297 in the US and $19,598,703 in foreign markets for a total worldwide box office of $26,000,000.
The film received positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 77% rating based on 35 critics, with an average rating of 6.8/10. The site's consensus states: "Mighty Aphrodite may not stand with Woody Allen's finest work, but it's brought to vivid life by a thoroughly winsome performance from Mira Sorvino." Metacritic reports a 59 out of 100 score based on 16 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".
In her review in The New York Times, Janet Maslin said, "Even when it becomes unmistakably lightweight, Mighty Aphrodite remains witty, agile and handsomely made."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called the film "a sunny comedy" and added, "The movie's closing scene is quietly, sweetly ironic, and the whole movie skirts the pitfalls of cynicism and becomes something the Greeks could never quite manage, a potential tragedy with a happy ending."
In the San Francisco Chronicle, Leah Garchik said the film was "an inventive movie, imaginative and rich in detail" and added, "Woody Allen's incredible wit is at the heart of all that's wonderful in Mighty Aphrodite, and Woody Allen's incredible ego is at the core of its major flaw . . . He fails when he attempts . . . to get the audience to suspend its disbelief and accept Allen, a withered Romeo, as a sweet-natured naif. The crotchety charm of the shy and awkward characters he played as a young man has worn off; nowadays, he comes across as just plain crotchety."
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone said, "The film is a showcase for Sorvino, actor Paul's Harvard-grad daughter, who gives a sensational performance. She shows startling humor and heart without trading on sentiment."
In Variety, Todd McCarthy described the film as "a zippy, frothy confection that emerges as agreeable middle-range Woody . . . There is perhaps a bit too much of the chorus galavanting about delivering their increasingly colloquial admonitions and too few convulsive laughs, but the writer-director has generally pitched the humor at a pleasing and relatively consistent level . . . The film's biggest surprise, and attraction, is Sorvino . . . [who] goes way beyond the whore-with-a-heart-of-gold externals of the part in developing a deeply sympathetic and appealing character. None of the diverse roles she has done to date would have suggested her for this part, but this gutsy performance will put her much more prominently on the map."