Published on March 20th, 2013 | by Clint Davis0
Summary: Surely ahead of its time but "Bananas" lacks the subtle brilliance of Woody's later work.
PG-13 | 82 min.
Director: Woody Allen | Screenplay: Woody Allen & Mickey Rose
Starring: Woody Allen, Louise Lasser, Carlos Montalban
Studio: United Artists
Let me preface this review by admitting I’m one of the biggest Woody Allen fans on the planet. You’ll see Annie Hall tucked into my “Top-5 Favorite Films” list, with Zelig and Crimes & Misdemeanors not far behind it. However, I couldn’t get into Bananas with the same level of admiration I’ve had with his other work.
Maybe it’s because I’ve already seen what Allen is capable of as a filmmaker, that I didn’t find this movie as enjoyable. Bananas is the equivalent of a comedy sledgehammer to the head, versus a subtle likability that his best work possesses.
This was only Allen’s third film as a director and he was already looked at as the king modern slapstick, having picked up a Best Comedy Writing nomination from the WGA for his wacky sophomore effort Take the Money and Run. When you see Bananas, you will be immediately reminded of the Abrahams/Zucker classic Airplane!, but this movie predates it by almost a decade.
The plot follows a machine tester named Fielding Mellish (Allen, as neurotic as ever) who is trying so hard to impress a politically active academic named Nancy (Louise Lasser) that he travels abroad to a banana republic named San Marcos that is currently undergoing a revolution. While in the fictional nation, Mellish’s live is saved by the local rebels and the next thing you know, he is chosen to be the president of their new government. Eventually, Mellish must travel to the USA in order to request financial assistance for his poor nation. While there, he wears a long beard and is taken seriously as a political leader, leading Nancy to finally fall for him.
Bananas serves as a comedic send-up of dictatorships and foreign politics in general, while also serving as an affirmation of doing whatever it takes to get the girl. In the film, Mellish goes about as far as humanly possible to prove he’s worthy of Nancy’s high standards. This is where Bananas falls right in line with most of Woody Allen’s subsequent work, his lead characters are on a constant pursuit of chicks.
While this movie laid the groundwork for later feature-length farces, I found its reliance on physical gags a hindrance. Allen is as gifted a comedy writer as has ever picked up a pen and I found myself bored by the over-the-top antics on display here. Most of the dialogue exchanges offer hilarious payoffs, such as when Mellish is told upon arriving in San Marcos that the revolution won’t take place for another six months, to which he replies, “Six months? I have a rented car!”. Following up a line like that with an extended sight-gag scene featuring gigantic props just feels criminal.
I still maintain that his pre-Annie Hall efforts lack the cohesion and heart he would later find, but a mediocre Woody Allen film is still ten-times better than most filmmakers could ever hope to accomplish. All that said, the legendary Howard Cosell doing “post-game” interviews following Fielding and Diane’s wedding night consummation is as good as it gets (“Wherever the action is, we will be there with ABC’s Wide World of Sports to cover it.”).
Call me a snob, but this one’s too easy.