Radio Days

Radio Days

****

Reviewed by: James Benefield

Every night the almost-teenage lead narrator of Radio Days (played by Seth Green) listens to the radio. He particularly likes the continuing story of the Caped Avenger. Thinking about the caped crusader's latest adventure, the narrator escapes from his affectionate, but suffocating, close-knit Jewish family. However, living in 1940s Brooklyn could be worse.

It's a 1940s which sees a humble cigarette girl, Sally (Mia Farrow), engaged in a tryst with a rich businessman. A good party doesn't involve copious alcohol, but a slick - albeit muted - dance of the tango. And a star baseball player continues successfully playing in spite of his recent loss of vision. It's a pretty sentimentalised portrait of a world, and a community, which may or may not have existed.

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Radio Days could easily be a remembrance of Woody Allen's youth. Like a series of connected memories, it's a film of many faces, observations and settings. Some of these we return to (such as Sally the cigarette girl), others drift away like a skein of smoke. The loose, rambling nature of the film eschews a standard, structured narrative. Instead it's structurally similar to Allen's early movies where the enjoyment comes out of a tone and sustained mood.

The humour is quintessentially Allen, however. Warmth emanates from its mature, observational roots. The gags represent the best of his comedic evolution. They have a cutting quality which would later sadly sour into cynicism. Here, there remains the whimsy and the lightness of touch beating at the heart of his masterpiece Annie Hall.

And like a memory, the film is bathed in a golden afterglow. The cinematography is divine; rich, colourful and tasteful. It's a chocolate box 1940s. The music, full of soulful brass and elegiac piano is gorgeous. And the acting is low key, but nuanced. Allen used to write great parts for women, and their characters shine through here. Dianne West is particularly good.

So although a relatively low key in his filmography, Radio Days sees Allen performing at his peak. Newcomers may be put off by the unusual structure, but it's essential for any seasoned Allen fans.

Reviewed on: 07 Jul 2010
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Radio Days packshot
A young comics fan tries to escape from the suffocating influence of his Jewish family in Forties New York.
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Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen

Starring: Seth Green. Mia Farrow, Dianne West, Danny Aiello, Woody Allen

Year: 1987

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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