Monday, 4 June 2018

Review #1,346: 'Sleeper' (1973)

Viewing writer and director Woody Allen's early films in chronological order provides an interesting and traceable path from motor-mouthed clown to accomplished auteur, not only in terms of tone and subject matter, but also from a purely filmmaking point of view. He had tackled satire back in 1971 with Bananas, but really knew how make it work just two years later with Sleeper, one of his most popular films, and one of his last slapstick comedies before he moved on to maturer work like Annie Hall and Interiors, his love letter to Ingmar Bergman. Revelations concerning his private life continue to concern, baffle and appal, but if you can put these uncomfortable allegations aside (which is understandably a big ask for some people), there is still plenty to admire about Allen's contribution to comedy and cinema as a whole.

Sleeper concerns Miles Monroe (Allen), a jazz musician and owner of a health-food store who goes in for a routine surgical procedure only to be cryogenically frozen without his knowledge and revived some 200 years in the future. The world he wakes up to is one governed by a mysterious dictator known as 'The Leader', who runs the country like a police state, with every citizen numbered and monitored like something straight out a George Orwell novel. The doctors who bring him out of his frozen state do so illegally, in the hope that Miles' exclusion from the government's register will allow him to fly under the radar and assist with the revolution. But the authorities are soon onto the rogue doctors, and Miles must flee into the countryside and into a society he knows little about. Improvising, he disguises himself as a robot butler and falls into the home of narcissistic bohemian Luna (Diane Keaton).

Naturally, much hilarity ensues, with Allen embracing the physical comedy of silent greats Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and The Marx Brothers, and dialling down his neurotic monologuing shtick. Luna prefers to remain ignorant at first, but after learning more from Miles, turns into full-on revolutionary. As with most comedies, some jokes fall flat, especially when Allen leans on the sexual humour such as the 'Orgasmatron', but this is probably Allen's funniest film, with the chemistry forged with Diane Keaton on the set of Play It Again, Sam effortlessly carrying over to into this. In fact, Keaton may even outshine her co-star. Her dialogue with Allen provides many opportunities for their ideals and social attitudes to clash, and as both characters grow, Sleeper serves up some surprisingly philosophical insights. Big Brother is indeed watching, and although this is a world full of buffoons easily distracted by Miles' shenanigans and the technology proves just as unreliable as it is today, its a pretty horrific place to be.

Directed by: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, John Beck, Mary Gregory, Don Keefer
Country: USA

Rating: ****

Tom Gillespie

Sleeper (1973) on IMDb

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