One must gain an appreciation for an artist’s early work as well as during his prime in order to gain an appreciation for the artist as a whole… Right? Well, it might help gather a more complete picture of said artist when one views, say, Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets or Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail. But with a particularly single-minded artist like Woody Allen, it might instead detract from the concept of that artist’s career that we have come to know and love. I guess what I’m trying to say is; Woody Allen’s Sleeper, the earliest of his work on the list, is so unlike a Woody Allen film that one can’t go into it expecting such.
Where Allen does show the burgeoning traces of his craft is in the main character, played by Allen himself, who is Allen’s typically neurotic, verbose, and cynically witty Jewish character. That’s where the similarities end, however; said character is not in a major city like Manhattan, but is instead cryogenically frozen after complications with a surgery, and ends up thawed out 200 years into the future, into a police state ruled by a nameless leader, complete with underground revolutionary group, who want to recruit said character to help them overthrow the government before they can implement something known as the Aires Project. Not your typical Woody Allen plot, and the execution is way different; really, I can’t remember the last time, if ever, I saw Woody Allen so outright wacky. Most of the comedy of the plot, if it doesn’t come from Allen’s signature wordplay, comes from old-style slapstick and visual gags right out of the Buster Keaton era. Allen’s silent film influences are readily apparent, right from the old-timey brass music playing over the opening credits, which recurs throughout the film whenever we enter one of its comedy sequences. I guess it goes to show you how good film comedians like Keaton really were, as even though I was expecting a little more Woody Allen in this, I still ended up laughing a whole lot; the gags were rather hit or miss, but when they hit they really worked.
The best advice I can give is: don’t do what I did. Don’t go into this expecting yet another typical Woody Allen picture, albeit one in an earlier form; this was Allen before he had solidified his signature style, and was still experimenting with various genres and types of comedy to get what he wanted out of the audience. Here, he succeeds, though not in the regular Woody Allen way, so to have those expectations is to set yourself up for disappointment, even mildly. Some of what goes on in Sleeper hasn’t dated all that well, but fortunately, even more of it is really timeless entertainment, and can be funny for any generation, and that more than anything is what I think makes Sleeper a success, even with Allen’s much better work still to come.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10