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RADIO DAYS

      

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 26, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: In the mid-1980s, Woody Allen premiered three films in a row at the Park City festival, including this one. Here’s my review, published Feb. 20, 1987, in the Deseret News.

There’s always the danger of overselling a movie like Woody Allen’s “Radio Days,” particularly since it follows hot on the heels of Allen’s superb and deeply felt “Hannah and Her Sisters.”

“Radio Days” is a lighter film, made up of a series of vignettes, really, but no less heartfelt in its warmth. What it lacks in depth is made up for in a sincere love and even reverence—– along with occasional irreverence — for Allen’s youth and what the miracle of radio meant to America during the pre-war years.

Yes, children, there was a time without television, when people used their imaginations to fill the gaps.

     

            Wallace Shawn, Mia Farrow, 'Radio Days'

Allen does not appear on-screen in this one but he narrates the film with an unmistakable air of nostalgia in his voice. His personage is taken on by young Seth Green, playing the young Woody (under the name Joe) and about half the film is devoted to his family in Rockaway, N.Y. — his bickering parents (Michael Tucker, of TV’s “L.A. Law” and Julie Kavner, who was also in “Hannah”), his husband-hunting aunt (Dianne Wiest, up for an Oscar for “Hannah”), along with other relatives all living under one roof.

Intercut with this story (which resembles in some ways Neil Simon’s recent “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” though Allen’s memoirs are sunnier and funnier) are a number of stories about the Golden Age of radio, most of them based on real characters and incidents.

The slender thread that ties together the radio tales has a cigarette girl (Mia Farrow) with a whiny voice that would crack glass eventually becoming a singing star. Farrow is hysterical in the role, reminiscent initially of Jean Hagen’s character in “Singin’ in the Rain,” proving again her great versatility as an actress (which Allen has brought to our attention in her six films with him more than any other director before).

There are also vignettes about the way radio brought music, chatter, soap operas, drama, sports and adventure into America’s living rooms — most of them very funny, a few more serious. (One news event, based on a true incident when all of the country listened anxiously to the attempts to rescue a little girl from a well, vividly shows how different, and in some ways more compelling, such real-life drama was over the invisible airwaves of radio than today’s more literal televised news.)

     

                         Diane Keaton, 'Radio Days'

Allen, of course, is an acquired taste and his flair for occasional vulgar jokes (which local audiences always point up to me as a flaw) is naturally present here. But in comparison with say, “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” which is much raunchier, “Radio Days” is relatively tame — and it’s most redeeming factor is that the humor here is out-and-out hysterical, where Simon’s humor was amusing at best. Allen also manages to touch more universal nerves here. (Still the PG rating seems a bit tame; a PG-13 might have been more appropriate, considering that sex, profanity and vulgarity are touched upon, and there is one nude scene, along with comic violence.)

There are many great yarns told here and so many very funny gags that it is tempting to list a bundle, but the wonderful surprises are half the film’s charm and pleasure. (And Allen regulars pop up in cameos all over the place — Diane Keaton, Jeff Daniels, Tony Roberts, Wallace Shawn, along with some actual former radio personalities.)

An added bonus here is enough wonderful old music to have you singing old favorites in the shower for months. (Between “Radio Days” and “Round Midnight” local record stores may find a whole batch of new customers for old records.)

Suffice it to way Woody Allen fans will be delighted, and though “Radio Days” may not convert those who disdain Allen’s work, audiences who remember the days of radio will be carried away with much of this in a strong warm wave of gentle nostalgia. What more can you ask?