Movie Journal – 2/10/2012

Bananas (1971)     4.5/5

Written & Directed by Woody Allen (United Artists)

With the commercial success of last year’s Midnight in Paris, in addition to significant recognition from the Academy, it is interesting to realize that even Woody Allen’s third film (and arguably the first where he had sufficient creative control) artfully mixes the same level of humor and intellect. Although Bananas is surely what fans would refer to as one of Allen’s “funnier, earlier” movies, the slapstick approach does not negate any of the film’s ingenious satire.

Spoofing everything from news broadcasts to social activism, revolutionaries to courtroom antics, Allen successfully proved that not only his hysterically neurotic persona could carry a picture, but also content more relevant than in many dramas. The basic premise involves Allen as an eccentric product tester in New York, whose breakup with activist Nancy (Louise Lasser) prompts him to take a vacation to a revolution-torn, Central American country, somehow resulting in Allen becoming the new, fake-bearded president of “San Marcos.”

There is nothing particularly consistent about Bananas, but throughout the strange, light-hearted insanity, virtually every sight gag, one-liner, and rapid-paced conversation connects. Each scene is staged with the absurdity of a Monty Python skit, and although this does provide some disconnection, what we are witnessing is undoubtably the birth of one of the great American talents. On another note, with shots of diverse length, interesting compositions, and a slight ignorance of continuity editing, one can see the emerging elements of 70s art film quite clearly. Allen’s humor, meanwhile, would not simply be concentrated in a movement. He would average nearly one film a year for the next 40, and with another set of directing and screenwriting nominations in his lap, it is hard to imagination a world without the other 21.

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