Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Netflixing: Radio Days

As much as I like watching movies, I might like rating them on Netflix better. In this series I will explain why I rate what I rate. This week...

For a while I used to call my Netflix queue the “Woody Allen Film of the Week Club.” After far too long without a subscription and after living a life where I watched far too few movies (Have you seen Jaws or 2001: A Space Odyssey? Because I haven’t but I have seen the Brendan Fraser/Albert Brooks bromance The Scout 12 time), when I finally did bite the bullet, all I wanted to do was watch the entirety of the Woody Allen Catalog.

Beyond the innate Allen appreciation that swims through my bloodstream as a natural born Jews, Woody just makes the movies I like to see: tightly-scripted, heady comedies set in New York. The first film I watched via Netflix was Sweet and Lowdown, which instantly became one of my hands down favorite movies ever. The ending of that film might have been my favorite of any story I have ever experienced, film or otherwise. S&L was considered to be a very good Woody film (and one of his eventual many “comeback films”) but not one of the all-time greats, even though I think the movie is absolutely flawless.

Same goes for Bullets Over Broadway, another late-era film that was very well received but not really thought to be in the same echelon as the films of his late 70’s to late 80’s run. Though it is a high-concept film, BOB really acts as Woody’s meditation on what it means to be a true artist. I was not expecting to like it as much as I did but ultimately it is a must-see film.

It hasn’t been all pleasant surprises. I didn’t love The Purple Rose of Cairo, a film generally considered to be one his all-time best. I got a lot of the meaning of the picture yet it still just didn’t resonate. I am by no means saying it’s not great, it just didn’t work for me.

So where does Radio Days stack up?

In chronicling his childhood growing up in New York, Radio Days comes off as one of Woody’s most wistful and least bitter movies. The story mixes tales of the Golden Age of Radio with trials of his family. I think partly what made the film so enjoyable was realizing that this was also the story of my grandparents New York, where my Bubbe grew up not too far from Woody’s Brooklyn childhood neighborhood. Adding to the overall nostalgic feel was how many of the film’s actors have appeared in other Allen movies: Danny Aiello, Jeff Daniels, Mia Farrow, Julie “Marge Simpson” Kavner, Diane Keaton, Wallace “Inconceivable!” Shawn, Diane Wiest, and a young, barely recognizable Larry David. There was also something nice about having a very young Seth Green play the surrogate young Woody.

The film plays out more as a series of short stories with interconnecting themes than one all-encompassing narrative. With Woody taking the duty of the narrator, the film did have the feeling of an excerpted memoir. It was definitely a nice change of pace from the Woody standard but I did find myself longing for a more realized arc.

Radio Days is a terrific movie and a definite most see for Allen fans and people with New York Jewish grandparents, but it do not place it on the same level as my eight favorites: Crimes & Misdemeanors (my hands-down #1), Sweet & Lowdown, Manhattan, Annie Hall, Vicky Christina Barcelona, Bullets Over Broadway, Hannah & Her Sisters, Husbands & Wives.


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