As we enter the beginning of 2016, one of the most prolific directors working today is Woody Allen. He directed a film every year since the early 1970’s and at a ripe 80 years young, he is still going strong today. My review is for his second directorial effort, Bananas. No, this film is not about bananas although if you know Latin American history, the movie has a country resembling one from the Banana Republic. Actually, bananas is a slang word for “crazy.” Truth be told, that is an apt description for this movie. The movie is totally bonkers, but in a good way. You learn right away that Woody Allen has a flair for dialogue. Not clichéd dialogue, but words that are different and that mean something. He is also a natural comedian, which helps him when it comes to his screenplays, directing, and acting.
Coming off the Vietnam War and the troubles regarding the Banana Republic in Latin America, this kind of film was ripe for the taking and Allen seized his opportunity to make a satirical, over-the-top movie. The movie lambasts topics ranging from politics to relationships and it’s really easy to find the humor in it. I really love how Allen does not take the film seriously. If the film became too serious, or bogged down in political correctness this film would have been a major disaster. Many of the jokes or scenes work, but not all of them do. The scene where Allen was showering with another man in his suit was distracting and not that funny. But the funny scenes outdo the other scenes in a great way. My favorite scene is after Allen’s character marries a girl, Howard Cosell of all people delivered commentary on the first sexual encounter between the newlyweds as if it was a boxing match. My God, I loved that scene very much. For those of you who don’t know, Howard Cosell was a commentator on ABC’s very popular program, Wide World of Sports. From the scenes I mentioned to the mere fact that Allen’s character becomes a dictator of a random, foreign country, it’s clear Allen is embracing the over-the-top style of the movie.
Woody Allen’s second directorial effort is about some awkward man named Fielding Mellish (played by Allen himself) who is a consumer product tester. After his girlfriend Nancy (Louise Lassier) dumps him, he decides to travel to the fictional South American country of San Marcos to take a break from his current life. But he gets caught up in a revolution (a very similar look to the Cuban Revolution), and somehow becomes a dictator for San Marcos after the rebels overthrow the government. But now the American government and the FBI turn a keen eye on Mellish.
The film is practically devoid of any big name stars. I would say the quick cameo by Howard Cosell brings the most star power to the film, and he’s not even an actor. I’m not knocking on anybody in the film, but they just don’t have the star power as of yet. In the case of Allen, that will change. But here we have an early example of what kind of auteur the man is. He knows his way with words and he can be a very funny guy. Case in point where he decides to go to a sub shop and order thousands of orders for his rebel camp. Just seeing people bring the food to the camp in wheelbarrows was priceless. Louise Lassier was married to Allen at the time of filming, and she does a decent job as the girl who is awkward in relationships and is in love with political rallies more than her boyfriend. If anyone is good at spotting cameos, keep an eye out for Sylvester Stallone. He plays one of the thugs on the subway.
I thought Bananas was a very entertaining, well-written satire by Woody Allen. He certainly has a style you have to grow accustomed to and it’s still hard for me to do that. I used to refuse to watch any of his works because his style turned me off, but I’m slowly warming up to his movies. I was able to enjoy this movie very much, but some jokes didn’t land well as others did. Regardless, this is an effective movie from early in Woody Allen’s career and despite some small flaws, I can easily recommend it.
My Grade: B+