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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Radio Days
Radio Days
MGM // PG // November 6, 2001
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted November 27, 2001 | E-mail the Author
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Featuring a cast of Woody Allen regulars, Radio Days reminisces about the golden age of radio (1942-1944), backstage stories combined with its affect of Woody's fictionalized family. Stories include a young Seth Green as Joe, Woody's youthful alter ego, and his quest to get a Masked Avenger ring, which ends up in his first and only foray into crime by pocketing money he collected for the Jewish National Fund. His layabout father who refuses to tell Joe what he does for a living. His lovelorn, unlucky Aunt Bea (Diane Wiest) always searching for a mate, but ends up, for instance, getting dumped in the middle of nowhere when one date panics after he hears the War of the Worlds broadcast on the car radio. As well as the story of radio ingenue Sally White (Mia Farrow), who rises from clueless, classless, grating voice nobody to radio star, a complicated turn of events which involves sleeping with radio stars, a botched mob hit, the attack on Pearl Harbor, and some vocal training.

Woody Allen abandons his contemporary witticisms on urban life for this nostalgic look back on his childhood (though somewhat fictionalized, no doubt) and still retains his great comic skills. I say this because films that could be described as "heartwarming" usually aren't my thing, and my favorite Woody Allen comedies are his two darkest ones, Stardust Memories and Crimes and Misdemeanors. But, Radio Days is both funny, effectively sweet, and "heartwarming", comparative to A Christmas Story and Neil Simon's reflective plays about his youth and family. With Radio Days, Allen manages to conjure up the spirit and memory of his childhood and family, countered by stories concerning the forgotten medium everyone centered their entertainment from at the time, the radio. Although the time is foreign to me, anyone can instantly relate to those first things you fell in love with as a child. I'm as fond of the Saturday morning cartoons and toys I grew up with, as Allen is of the radio shows of his childhood, so the feeling of compassion and melancholy over those first, innocent loves really warms you. For those who haven't seen it, you would think the number of characters and plots would be too much, that two films, one about the family, and one about the radio stars and backstage stories would be enough, but Allen is deft in weaving the two together. Like turning the dial on a radio knob, it flips between tales, showing how his family and the common man romanticized the radio world (Its where they got everything, from news, to comedy, to music, to social tales, games shows, etc.) , and how this escapist world they loved was contrasted by the antics of the radio personalities who had to keep these dreams going. There is no narrative really, a begin, middle, and end. While every character has their own little stories, the real thread of the film is just a fondness for the time.

But, it isn't all perfect... Unfortunately, being all warm, fuzzy, and reflective also hinders the film a little. The comedy is not as sharp as the best of Allen's work. Sure, there are mile minute one liners and gags, but when you have the reputation Woody does with so may side splitting, innovative comedies, this one does feel a little paler and restrained. The film also moves very fast, and at 86 mins, you'd almost swear it only takes 30-40 mins to actually watch, but this pacing feels just a little uneven , with certain scenes playing long, others being extremely quick, just there for a brief joke, and like I said, the jokes are pretty average. ON one hand I like that it is a quick film, but on the other, maybe it could have used a few more behind the scenes or family stories, a few more good jokes. One could argue that with so many characters, most are ill defined and stereotyped, but Allen (in the liner notes) does say they were meant to be "cartoons". I assume this is because, that is really how memory often works, and most of us define our families in such a way, by traits, with one person being the cheapskate, the temperamental, the crook, the drinker, the comedian, the eccentric, the businessperson, and so on.

Some of the better jokes include- Sally's comments after a tryst with a radio star, "Boy, that was fast. Probably helped that I had the hiccups."- The opening tale of two burglars, who break into a home, stop to answer the phone and are put on a game show, which they win, the prizes then being mailed to the unsuspecting family they were robbing.- A radio sports story of a young baseball pitcher, who through a series of accidents goes from one-legged pitcher, to one-legged and one-armed pitcher, to a one-legged, one-armed, and blind pitcher.- And the brief tale of how one sweet, upbeat, song, for some mysterious reason, reminds Allen of a neighbor who went crazy and ran around the streets in his underwear frightening people by waving a meat cleaver.

In conclusion, its a very solid, entertaining film, from a master filmmaker, who doesn't quite grace the film with a master touch.

On a side note: With its brief nudity, condom, and quickie sex jokes, how on Earth this film got a PG rating is beyond me? Its a PG-13 if I ever saw one.

The DVD: Picture- Widescreen, anamorphic. While the film was photographed somewhat roughly (to give it that nostalgic look), and during the gray, mist covered winter New York, the DVD has its fare share of uneven, scenes, most looking fine, but some a tad too grainy and dull. Its not terribly annoying, especially if you are a fan, but worth mentioning because it really is far from perfect. Sound- Original audio track, plus French and Spanish, all in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, so it isn't speculator, but Woody is a simple man and thats I'm sure how he intends it. English, Spanish, and French subtitles as well. Extras- Just the fullscreen US theatrical trailer, 16 Chapters, and liner note booklet.

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