Down From the Shelf ~ Radio Days

The Facts:

Synopsis: A nostalgic look at radio’s golden age focusing on one ordinary family and the various performers in the medium.

Stars: Seth Green, Mia Farrow, Julie Kavner, Michael Tucker

Director: Woody Allen

Rated: PG

Running Length: 88 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  Like the Cohen Bros, Allen seems to churn out movies with regularity but with a certain ‘hit or miss’ quality for me.  I think Allen of the 70’s was bit more successful but in the following decades he has had his share of good ideas that don’t necessarily make great movies.  Radio Days catches Allen in a nice streak having just come off the great success of Hannah and Her Sisters.  He’d follow this up with more somber fare for the next few years but what you get here is classic Allen in his best nostalgia mode.

I’ve always responded best to Allen’s films that take place in the past with elements of his own up bringing and memories sprinkled around.  Taking place in the early forties, Allen himself doesn’t appear in this one and lets Greene take on what has become known as the “Woody Allen role”.  Even at eight, Greene displayed a knack for the brand of smug delivery he’s mine later in his career.  As the youngest member of a large family that lives in the same apartment, the movie isn’t totally seen through his eyes but as more of an observance of how radio played an important part in his childhood.  With Kavner and Tucker working well as Greene’s lovingly squabbling parents, Allen creates some nice moments of familial relations that are framework for telling fanciful stories relating to the ‘radio days’ and the era they existed in.

Unfortunately, Allen was still with Farrow at this point and somehow felt the need to shoehorn a plot line for her that is totally separate from the central family that are infinitely more interesting than she is.  As a ditzy cigarette girl and wannabe radio star, Farrow isn’t really to blame here.  Her character is one part Lina Lamont from Singin’ in the Rain and two parts Olive Neal (Jennifer Tilly’s character from Bullets Over Broadway).  It’s almost as if Allen had two scripts that he combined into one once he realized there wasn’t enough material for two different pictures.  It’s too bad that he didn’t take the time to flesh out both so they were full pictures independently.

Even with this strange juxtaposition of storylines, I found myself laughing a great deal and enjoying the ride back in time to a point in history where families ate their dinner to the sounds of big band music, women tuned in for radio dramas, and kids enjoyed the adventure heroes that always saved the day.  I wouldn’t call this a minor Allen film – it’s absolutely worth the watch.

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