Stars: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Nick Forte | Written and Directed by Woody Allen
A clutch of comedians chat in a New York cafe, sharing stories about a legendary theatrical manager named Danny Rose (Woody Allen). A quirky fellow, Rose liked to throw his weight behind dead-end novelty acts: one-armed jugglers, one-legged tapdancers, and wine glass musicians. But the best story – around which this madcap movie circles – is that of Danny’s relationship with Lou Canova (Nick Forte); or, more specifically, Danny’s relationship with Lou’s muse, Tina (a barely recognisable Mia Farrow).
Lou is a pretty lousy cabaret singer who fortuitously lands a gig at the Waldorf. But he won’t perform without Tina in attendance. Danny goes to pick her up, but in doing so triggers an absurd series of events that sees the two of them on the run from Italian mobsters. Suffice to say, Allen’s trademark manic nervousness is out in full force thereon.
But there’s a sweetness at the heart of Danny, and thus the film in general, that rescues it from becoming a simple vehicle for the writer-director’s neuroses. Its message of forgiveness is embodied by the essential decency of Danny, and the equivalent decency that Tina finds in herself. Broadway Danny Rose is Allen at his most optimistic, celebrating humble quirkiness while offering a withering attack on an ego-driven show business.
The road trip structure is one Allen has repeated numerous times since 1984 (when this film was originally released), and it’s not hard to see its appeal. Done right, as it is here, two mismatched characters can enjoy an odyssey that serves to remind us that the closest bonds are often forged between the unlikeliest of allies.
Danny surges around as if forever on a cross trainer, always pushing forward, sometimes blindly, always forward, like some benign shark. He’s a whining weakling who’ll get on your nerves – Allen has no interest in making nerds look cool – but against the cast of grotesques around him, you’re on his side. So is Farrow’s Tina: she plays the part of the shallow socialite, but it’s all an act. Neither knows it, but Danny is tapping into the heart of Tina; trying to get behind the sunglasses sealed to her face.
Allen employs a flashback-within-flashback structure, which threatens to confound but is vital for showing multiple perspectives and motives. And the use of overarching narration has purpose: the cafe comedians are deconstructing comedy, peeling back the laughter to get to the life underneath. Allen may not always nail the balance between comedy and drama, but nor does life. A shootout in a helium factory, where the combatants yell threats like chipmunks, says it all.
Rounding it up with warmth and affection, Allen finishes the story perfectly, with a punchline that isn’t a punchline. Danny has grown; the weakling has become more of a man than any of the bigshots he’s crossed. And he even gets a sandwich named after him.
Broadway Danny Rose is released on Arrow Academy Blu-ray on 9th January 2017.