A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 276 – Play It Again, Sam

Play It Again, Sam – December 1st, 2010

Upon learning that it was Woody Allen’s birthday we decided to do one of our two Woody Allen movies tonight. I’ve always had a limited tolerance for Allen’s schtick. It’s solid comedy of embarrassment and that sort of thing often gives me a bad case of contact embarrassment. But we do own a couple of his movies and even though this was a short one and we’ve been trying to reserve short movies for my evening shifts we popped it in tonight.

Now, I know I’ve seen bits and pieces of this movie before. I’m sure I have because I remember the Casablanca references. Maybe it was when I watched Casablanca in a film class or something. Alas, we don’t own Casablanca, so we can’t follow this up with that. It’s a glaring gap in our collection, actually. Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. We have an odd lack of classic cinema. I suppose they’re all things we’ve watched with other people or in classes and seen so often in so many other places we just never thought to buy them for ourselves. Strange, really, when you consider what we do own.

Then again, after watching this tonight I find myself a little apprehensive about going back and watching some Bogart. It’s been years since I last saw either of the movies I mentioned above and I honestly can’t remember just how many casual mentions there were about violence towards women. If the imaginary Bogart in this movie is any indication then “popping a dame in the jaw” would be fairly common. He says it a bunch of times, like it’s this idealized thing a “real man” should be able to do to a woman. Every time that or something similar was mentioned it caught me again. The matter-of-fact and used-for-humor tone in which mentions of hitting and raping women are said completely threw me out of this movie. Given how much of this movie is homage to Bogart and Woody Allen’s character’s obsession with him, I admit it makes me nervous.

It frustrates me to no end that there’s so much in this movie that pisses me off. The whole conversation about rape isn’t just awkward, it’s painfully unfunny. The scene in the bar with the two bikers gives me a full body cringe. And all the talk about punching. It’s just so pervasive and it’s a damn shame because there’s some truly funny stuff in here. While Allen’s comedy of embarrassment thing isn’t my favorite gag in the world, he’s truly made it an art form. Some of his little film-inspired imagined scenarios are fantastic. There’s great throwaway bits with some of the minor characters. It’s good stuff! It’s funny! I did laugh quite a few times through the course of the movie. And then imaginary Bogart would show up and I’d wince.

The plot involves the very neurotic Allan (played by Allen – totally not playing himself, right?) trying to find a new girlfriend after his wife leaves him. While he attempts to date (and fails miserably) he spends a lot of time with his good friends, married couple Dick and Linda. Dick’s a workaholic and Linda and Allan get along great since they’re both full of neuroses and awkwardness and I think it’s pretty obvious where that’s headed. Through it all Allan is obsessed with becoming this bizarre manly ideal as epitomized (in his head) by Humphrey Bogart. He’s even got an imaginary Bogart who pops in every so often to advise him. Of course, his imaginary ex also shows up, but not nearly so much. And so the movie goes. Allan goes on one horrible date after another, botches every conversation he tries to start with a woman, and ends up falling for his best friend’s wife.

I actually really love the ending of this movie. It’s so fitting and so well played and it incorporates the Casablanca references so perfectly. In a movie about a man who finds the perfect woman for himself only to find that she’s taken, there are a couple of ways it could have played out. And the way it does play out isn’t the fairy tale ending a lot of modern romantic comedies would toss in there, but it’s just right for this particular story. I like the overall story, to be honest. I’m not terribly fond of the specifics of how it goes sometimes, but the story itself is solid, and so is a lot of the humor. Even the dated comedy of Dick constantly calling his workplace to let them know what number he can be reached at still has a certain kind of nostalgic appeal to it. But there’s just so much tossed in there that makes me mad. If I could ignore it, I’d have enjoyed this a great deal more, but I can’t ignore it and I don’t think I should have to.

December 1, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Play it Again, Sam

December 1, 2010

Play it Again, Sam

Yes, we do not own Casablanca. I just wanted to get that off my chest right at the start of this review. This movie is about a neurotic goofball who has an obsession with Humphrey Bogart and particularly Casablanca so it highlights the fact that we don’t own the movie. Or any Bogart at all. Oh, sure, we’ve seen Casablanca plenty of times, we just don’t own it.

Back when I was living with my sister in Somerville this was one of the few movies we owned. As a result I’ve seen it many, many times. I haven’t seen it in about fifteen years though, and it’s odd to see it again tonight. There are parts that I still love as much as ever, but much of the movie is just painful to watch now. I don’t know why I can’t simply enjoy watching Woody Allen making a fool of himself, but now his antics make me wince more than they make me laugh.

In this adaptation of his own play Woody Allen plays the creatively names Allan. His wife has just left him because he is a complete bore and he is a neurotic wreck as a result. His best friend Dick and his wife Linda try their best to comfort him, and for most of the movie attempt to find him some girl he can hook up with. Every time Allan gets near a girl, however, he gets to nervous that he’s incapable of anything but nervous blundering. There’s a lot of broad slapstick humor as Allan knocks things over, stumbles about and stutters incoherently. He is so desperate to impress that he makes a complete fool of himself.

The only woman Allan is even able to have a conversation with is Linda, because he’s comfortable with her and they can share stories of their various neuroses and panic attacks. There actually is a chemistry between Diane Keaton and Woody Allen, in a nerdish kind of way, and I enjoy that part of the movie. Except when their conversation somehow diverts into jokes about women’s rape fantasies. That’s a pretty uncomfortable scene. Ultimately their friendship leads to an illicit one-night affair which makes both of them more neurotic than ever before. It’s all an excuse to reprise the final scene from Casablanca, which is played in its entirety during the opening credits.

You see, Allan has an obsession with Humphrey Bogart. His job is writing articles for a magazine about film, and he watches movies all the time. (I definitely sympathise with him on that front.) Bogie visits him in his fantasies and provides him with misogynistic romantic advice. It’s a fun contrast to have the calm, cool hard-boiled character that Bogie played giving advice to the spastic and insecure character that Woody always plays.

This is every inch a Woody Allen film. Aside from the fact that it’s set in San Francisco rather than New York. It explores themes that Woody likes to explore about infidelity and the complexity of relationships. The character that Woody Allen plays is very much the iconic character that he based his entire career on. You have to wonder as you watch it just how much he’s playing a character, and how much he’s playing himself. And then you have to wonder just how hard it must be to be Woody Allen.

There are a few things I love about this movie. There’s the running gag about how the workaholic Dick calls his office all the time and leaves the phone number of wherever he is going to be so they can get in touch with him. I also really like Allan’s fantasies. Bogie shows up a lot of course, but there’s also his ex-wife Nancy and a bunch of imagined outcomes to his affair with Linda. Those are the high points of the movie.

There’s also a fun technique that director Herbert Ross uses to adapt some of the scenes from the play. He has conversations between Allan and Nancy done as sort of montages, so that although their dialog is all from one scene they deliver it in a bunch of different locations, just cut together into a single conversation. It’s a clever way to show that they have meaningful talks which span several days – a nice way to build their friendship.

This movie came out in the year that I was born. As such there are bits that haven’t aged too well. It’s not just the clothes either. You expect the costumes from a film made in the seventies to be laughable. The attitudes towards women, as I’m sure Amanda is saying in her review, are almost painful to watch, though, and that takes a lot of the fun out of the movie. I’m kind of curious now to review Sleeper, which was my favorite Woody Allen movie when I was growing up because it was almost entirely crazy slapstick. I wonder how that movie will look now to my jaded adult eyes.

December 1, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 2 Comments