On its 40th anniversary, I had lots of conflicting thoughts about Woody Allen’s iconic romantic comedy.
“Sun is bad for you. Everything our parents said was good is bad. Sun, milk, red meat… college.”
A strange one. This is the jewel in the crown that is Woody Allen’s filmography, but I don’t think it’s one of my favourites. I adore parts of this movie – but I’m no longer comfortable declaring my love for it as a whole. I could sit here and celebrate the iconic status of this forty-year-old classic, but time has also been its worst enemy. There are parts that really haven’t aged well, and Allen’s storied offscreen history doesn’t make them any more pleasant to watch (the irony of an accused sexual abuser making a joke about a child molester isn’t lost on anyone). Other times, it’s undermined by the weight of its own legacy. A neurotic self-loathing chump in love with his manic pixie dream girl, the non-linear juxtaposition between a blossoming young relationship and its gradual descent into despair… we’ve seen all these tropes before – in dozens of rom/coms over the last four decades. This film has been aped and homaged so many times, revisiting it years later almost makes it feel uninspired.
Of course it isn’t. Or at least it wasn’t. It was incredibly inventive at the time – and it feels wrong to blame the film for all its countless copycats. Even if that original charm has since been diluted, there are still moments of magic i’ll remain forever synonymous with. Diane Keaton’s magnificent wardrobe (an iconic marriage of masculinity and femininity); Gordon Willis’ gorgeous grainy photography (radiating a potent blend of nostalgia and romance); The surprisingly measured and emotional portrayal of a doomed love affair, and all the highs and lows that come with it. They’re all such brilliant masterstrokes that simply cannot be mimicked or repossessed.
Every time I watch this film, I come away half-hating it, half-loving it – but it never fails to leave a lasting impression. I suppose that’s why it’s endured for forty years, and will likely do so for another forty years to come.
My current thoughts on Woody Allen can basically be summed up by this tweet.