Reviewed by: James Benefield

"Flippant, clever and packed full of intelligence."

In Sleeper, Woody Allen wakes up 200 years in the future, to find out the world is full of giant vegetables, impotent men and frigid women, hilariously malfunctioning futuristic technology, Frank Lloyd Wright-like buildings and Diane Keaton in a cloak.

His Manhattanite health food shop owner is thawed from a deep sleep by two anxious rebels, ready to disrupt the status quo. The pair of doctors are looking for a pawn to use, with no record of identity, in order to find out more about the evil deeds of the repressive government. However, when the police come calling, Allen escapes and disguises himself as a robot to survive. He finds himself delivered to the household of Diane Keaton; aspiring poet, bohemian and holder of a phD in oral sex.

Copy picture

Like all worthy sci-fi, Sleeper is as much about the society it was made in as the society it was made about. And, like any great Woody Allen comedy, it’s flippant, clever and packed full of intelligence. It’s one of his ‘early funny ones’, and thus is more akin to a film by the Marx brothers, than his later fascination with the works of Ingmar Bergman, as seen in pretty much everything from Manhattan.

It’s a definite development from his first movies. These were equally exuberant and facetious but were inconsistent and felt more like riffs on a theme, or a series of relatively unconnected sketches threaded together for the sake of a narrative. Although in Sleeper, it is still a case of humour first and story second (the film has plot holes you could jump through), it was his most satisfying film to date.

Comic highlights are frequent. With his later, more verbal and bittersweet comedy, it’s easy to forget that Allen once delivered physical and slapstick humour with great aplomb (and acclaim) too. His early scenes as a robot see him battling off a giant pudding with a broom, (the monstrous result of using too much instant pudding mix), passing around ‘the orb’ to party guests (an unholy cross between a recreational drug and a sex toy) and witnessing the perverse delights of the orgasmatron (in one of the film’s most inspired moments).

The movie also marks Woody’s first collaboration with Diane Keaton, who would appear in some, if not all, of Allen’s best films in the late Seventies and early Eighties. Her transformation from brain dead and brainwashed- artistic charlatan to rebellious minx is deftly portrayed, and involves, in one of the film’s most hilarious scenes, a truly alternative take on Marlon Brando’s signature portrayal of A Streetcar Named Desire’s Stanley Kowalski. Keaton’s lightness of touch always did work well against Allen’s hand-wringing neurosis.

An early highlight in Allen’s filmography, Sleeper is probably his most successful pure comedy. Although his Marx Brothers adoration is clearly apparent throughout, he shows off his unique, refreshing and cheeky comic talent in a flawed gem of a movie which provides a shining example of why he used to be considered one of the best filmmakers in the world.

Reviewed on: 18 Aug 2009
Share this with others on...
Sleeper packshot
After going into hospital for minor surgery, a health store owner awakens in a strange future world.
Amazon link

Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman

Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, John Beck, Mary Gregory, Don Keefer

Year: 1973

Runtime: 89 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


Search database:

If you like this, try:

Annie Hall