Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Woody Allen, Louise Lasser, Carlos Montalbán
Plot: When a bumbling New Yorker is dumped by his activist girlfriend, he travels to a tiny Latin American nation and becomes involved in its latest rebellion.
Rating: PG for comic sexuality including some pin-up nudity, some drug use and crude language.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
“I object, your honor! This trial is a travesty. It's a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.”
Early Woody Allen movies have been synonymous with an addictive blend of visual comedy of the slapstick kind and witty verbiage of the absurdist kind. Bananas, his third feature, is a strong example of this quality that continues to permeate through some of his works, though since the late 1970s he has become more mature as a filmmaker as he complements his neurotic, psycho-intellectual style of dialogue writing with a focus on dramatic acting and emotionally resonant plotting.
Bananas is a light-hearted ridiculous gem of a movie. It is tremendously energetic, partly due to a rhythmic Mexican/Cuban-flavoured jazzy score by Marvin Hamlisch. Allen directs himself and a group of actors willing to indulge in this sort of comedy. He plays Fielding Mellish, a product tester who falls in love with a woman political activist called Nancy (Louise Lasser), and then inexplicably finds himself part of a rebel group hell-bent on overthrowing a dictatorship of a small South American country when she dumps him.
The plotting is straightforward yet doesn't make any logical sense as Fielding jumps from one comedy set-piece to another. Some gags are superfluous like Allen's character visiting his surgeon parents while they are operating on a clueless, conscious man, but there are some truly hilarious sequences, in particular the courtroom scenes in the climax, and an attempted mugging of a man gone bizarrely wrong.
Allen's handling of farce is commendable and he comes across as an entertainer who enjoys milking as much laughter from audiences as possible. Bananas remains to be rarely seen in comparison to his more acclaimed films such as Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979) and Match Point (2005), but like Sleeper (1973) it is one of his purest comedies that showcases Allen as a likable funnyman who builds an accessible persona without being pretentious.
Critic Geoff Andrew of Time Out calls Bananas “wonderfully incoherent”, and that is very much spot-on. Allen’s movies get more complex and less slapstick later, so this ought to be seen as a treasured early effort by one of the great American filmmakers of all-time.
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