SLEEPER (1973)

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3-5 star | Dir: Woody Allen

“You must understand that everyone you knew in the past has been dead nearly 200 years.”
“But they all ate organic rice!”

“There’s very little overt comedy in the film”, quips Allen facetiously in the trailer for Sleeper. That’s akin to claiming that there’s very little overt suspense with Hitchcock, or very few overt explosions with Michael Bay. Because this is a very funny film on a number of levels; physical comedy, pure wit, Buster Keaton and Marx Brothers inspired silent slapstick, genre satire, impersonation (Diane Keaton as Marlon Brando’s Stanley Kowalski from A Streetcar Named Desire is superb). Even a running gag with a faulty rocket launcher is predictable but ironically effective. These are all features of this early Allen era and inevitably you compare them based on laughs. It almost becomes exhausting to keep up with the frenetic pace of the comedic blitz here for 85 minutes. It’s difficult to imagine this (and any Allen film, based on his universal compact running lengths) being the 2 act, 3 hour epic originally envisaged. The cast look like they had a bunch of fun shooting this though, and it’s a bunch of fun to watch too.

As the final vignette of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex… leaned towards a sci-fiction vein, Sleeper embraces that genre with pizzazz. Allen plays Miles Monroe, a clarinet player and heath food store owner who’s cryogenically frozen in 1973 and returned to life 200 years later. Viewed as an alien under an omnipotent government, he soon becomes part of a Marxist revolutionary underground movement (yes, his ideas have endured that long it seems) to overthrow the Leader. There’s a lot of farcical hijinx amongst the satire, however slight the plot just outlined becomes. While Everything… felt dated, Sleeper feels even more firmly rooted in 1973. Although this “nostalgic look at the future” harkens back to silent comedy slapstick and a traditional jazz score performed by Allen’s own New Orleans Funeral Ragtime Orchestra, the dystopian comedy comes from cultural and social references of the time. But how Allen portrays 2173 still has comic appeal based on a worldview in 2016. You understand the intentions, so jokes can transfer to modern day topical equivalents and remain amusing.

After starring together in Play It Again, Sam, this would be the first of six times that Keaton is directed by Allen. Of all of his female muses she is undoubtedly the most memorable, important and dynamic. Many before and after her have entertained and moved, but none have demonstrated an equal iconicness to Allen as she has. Seeing them connect as individuals in the intimate scene before Miles’ capture is rewarding and substantive not just because of their chemistry, but also to see the embers of Allen’s poise and talent for writing romantic relationships. They flirt, they tease, they learn about each other and we invest in them. Of course, he begins flirting with another woman 5 minutes later in the film – because having “great tomatoes” justifies such a thing – and they abruptly pronounce their love for one another with less than a minute before the end of the film. But such growing pains can be overlooked when you know in hindsight what was to come.

Part of Woody Wednesday. Second viewing.

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5 Comments

Filed under Reviews, Woody Wednesday

5 responses to “SLEEPER (1973)

  1. Great review, I’m trying to watch more of Allen’s stuff so thanks for bringing this to my attention.

  2. Pingback: LOVE AND DEATH (1974) | POPCORN SCORN

  3. Sleeper is lacking in its second half, but it is so funny and so offbeat while also being energetic and entertaining.

    • Totally! There’s a great energy to these kind of farces. Most of Allen’s early films lose some steam in the second half or final act though, maybe because of a combination of the thin plot and joke exhaustion.

  4. Pingback: SMALL TIME CROOKS (2000) | POPCORN SCORN

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