Radio Days marks the culmination of everything Woody Allen had done to that point. Featuring plenty of Allen’s past cast, and mixes European feel, directing flair, old time entertainment, the documentary form and something very American into a great film.
Woody Allen narrates an almost biographical story, about a child who grows up in the time of World War II, but falling in love with the stories on the radio. It’s a tour de force – it’s actually questionable if Allen’s work ever felt this confident again. We follow the young boy Joe, played by Seth Green, and his charming, crazy family, as their lives are connected to the radio.
The cast list is a who’s who of Allen films and as usual it’s the women who shine brightest. Dianne Wiest once again steals the show as Bea, love lost and hopelessly romantic, dreaming of places far away. Mia Farrow is Sally White, the naive and sweet wannabe who ends up winding through these stories. But those big perfomances are supported by strong steadier characters, in particular Julie Kavner‘s mother.
Throughout the film familiar faces give Allen a hand to tell his most personal story. Tony Roberts, Wallace Shawn, Jeff Daniels and more play bit parts. By the time Diane Keaton appears as a singer, you really feel like every film that came before was just the new production from the same company.
Allen can sometimes be erratic – he has too many ideas. This film is bursting with them, but he makes it work, like the comedians telling the stories in Broadway Danny Rose. There’s no singular plot, but it’s the radio that connects all these random events. It comes back in the end to the radio, and family.
There’s real stories here, and you wonder if Allen lived them himself. The girl in the well, Orson Welles‘ ‘War Of the Worlds‘ – these are real events. The superhero dramas, the glamorous morning shows. In a time before film, it’s wonderful to have at least a fictionalised, recreation of these times. The thoughts, the feelings, the costumes and more. It’s a love letter to radio, of the highest order, in any medium.
It’s probably amiss to discuss ‘Radio Days‘ without at least nodded to Fellini’s Amaracord, the big influence here. But it’s more than just about the kids and the red dressses. Allen’s played with documentaries for laughs twice (Take The Money And Run and Zelig), this time he uses all the power of the medium. But it’s all Allen in the end.
‘Radio Days‘ really fires on all cylinders. The sets and the scenery look fantastic. It is one of Allen’s most expensive films, and you see it on screen. There are plenty of silly side jokes and cutaways that would have cost a mint to film, for a two second gag. But it’s filled with laughs. And it’s radio so it’s a music film, and it’s the type of music that Allen lives and breathes.
‘Radio Days‘ is a classic. A deftly flawless work from a director in his prime, with a big budget and a large cast of actors who love him. It’s probably no suprise that it was downhill from there.
Full Cast: Danny Aiello, Sydney Blake, Leah Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Larry David, William H. Macy, Mia Farrow, Todd Field, Seth Green, Kitty Carlisle Hart, Paul Herman, Julie Kavner, Diane Keaton, Renée Lippin, Judith Malina, William Magerman, Kenneth Mars, Josh Mostel, Tony Roberts, Mercedes Ruehl, Rebecca Schaeffer, Wallace Shawn, Mike Starr, Don Pardo, Michael Tucker, Dianne Wiest, Kenneth Welsh