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#119. Play it Again, Sam - Review

Perhaps Humphrey Bogart is not the most sensible of personas to model one’s self after, especially if that someone is a nebbish New York intellectual who is most comfortable in a dark crowded movie house. Where Bogey was the handsome ladies man that covered his obvious sentimentality with a brash cynicism, Felix is a timid, insecure cinefile that desperately tries to mask his inhibitions with self-abasement. Woody Allen’s Allen Felix could possibly be considered an elitist if it wasn’t for his humorous inability to control his somewhat constant grade school like sexual urges. Seriously, if this were a Roman comedy Allen would be playing a half man – half goat.

Felix is the genesis of Allen’s self-reflexive protagonists. The character’s self-obsession and anxiety would be later built upon and perfected by the time he wrote and directed the award winning Annie Hall (1977), but this early manifestation of Allen’s own personal disabilities clearly lays the ground work for what was to come. Who else but Woody Allen could create a character that is so singularly selfish as to be completely blindsided by the request of a divorce from his wife, and still maintain a level of sympathy from the audience?

There is a fantastic scene in Play it Again, Sam (1972) where the newly divorced Felix attempts to imagine what his ex-wife could be doing with all of her newfound freedom. Where common sense would lead a sane man to dream-up reasonable situations for the ex (e.g. grocery shopping, getting a drink with some friends, washing her dog, etc.), Felix’s daydream quickly escalates into absurdity. His ex, looking far more attractive than earlier in the apartment, rides on the back of a Harley Davidson. She finds safety by wrapping her arms around the bulging chest of the man controlling the hog, who must have been the inspiration for the television game show American Gladiators (1989). Why is it that past lovers always transform into nymphomaniacs as soon they say goodbye and close the door behind them? It reminds me of the great line in Stephen Frears High Fidelity (2000) when John Cusack has a similar hallucination starring his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend and he says, “No woman in the history of the world is having better sex than the sex [she] is having with [him]… in my head.” I can only speculate how Freud would interpret Felix’s manifestations of the muscle head and the Harley, but I am sure it would be both sad and disturbing.

With a film centered on the self-centered, I found myself becoming more and more self-conscious to my own reactions of the film. I will admit the film is successfully funny, but several times throughout the movie the audience I believed to be a member of would leave me behind in fits of maniacal laughter. Hysterical, knee-slapping outbursts would accompany even the most middling punch lines, and my silence quickly instigated insecurity. Why am I not laughing with the rest of the audience, is my sense of humor not as fully evolved as the guy that un-ironically wears a fedora on top of his head? It didn’t help matters when the only joke I laughed at alone was during a conversation about rape, but this isn’t supposed to be about me, it’s about Felix. This isn’t comedy; this is therapy. 

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