Woody Allen has an interesting filmography. For the most part, it is dominated by comedies of every style, but films like Match Point have shown us that he can make good dramas as well. While Match Point is pure drama, Allen’s comedies tend to feature some dramatic elements, but instead he will put a twist on them to make them funny. Woody Allen understands these two genres well enough that he can easily craft any degree of dramatic situation as well as any degree of comedic situation from the same basic foundation. Take The Money And Run features prison breaks, robberies, bullying, and sex scenes, but it remains funny because of how Woody Allen twists each situation slightly, aided by the character of Virgil Starkwell (Woody Allen), into something a little extraordinary.
Woody Allen writes, directs, and stars in Take The Money And Run. It is an incredibly clever mockumentary-comedy about a vastly unsuccessful criminal, Virgil, who has been driven to a life of crime due to a series of bullies when he was young (and to a certain extent, when he grows into an adult as well). As an adult, he spends his time trying to pull off various heists, most of which result in him getting caught and thrown in jail. The film is a biopic, outlining the better half of Virgil’s life, including his multiple jail sentences, marriage, financial downfall, and subsequent attempts to reverse his situation through the subtle art of crime.
The style of humor in the film can be referred to as “formless comedy,” meaning a comedy that consists of a series of gags that do not necessarily link together. Each gag can be thought of as a standalone. While this might at first seem like a lazy form of comedy, it definitely isn’t. This kind of humor can easily degrade into a series of puns that are only funny because they are corny. It takes a clever writer to keep the pace of the film elevated, while not resorting to corny jokes. It’s a delicate balance, and Woody Allen definitely succeeds at this. There are only about two gags that are much more corny than they are clever, but the rest are incredibly original.
Mockumentaries have always had interesting cinematography to me. Normally movies will use a combination of cinematography and editing to build a three dimensional environment inside the audiences’ heads. This is done to create spacial continuity and to not confuse the audience, because what’s not shown in a shot holds a certain amount of importance to what is shown. Mockumentaries on the other hand don’t have this priority because they are all about what’s happening in front of the camera. This of course comes from the documentary style of shooting, which says “get what’s important and nothing more.” In addition to this, mockumentaries usually choose cheaper equipment or film stock in an effort to achieve a more “home movie,” or “in the moment” look. Take The Money And Run has the look of Kodak’s “Kodachrome” film (very vivid colors and very high contrast), which makes me wonder if they shot it on this (my research was very unsuccessful). Because of this, it’s actually a lovely looking movie, while still achieving the look of a home movie. It’s nothing like District 9, which uses a very unattractive digital look to achieve their documentary aesthetic (They used the Red One Sony PMW-EX1, and various other Sony camcorders, which all have the habit of clipping highlights like crazy and not rendering their color correctly). It was a breath of fresh air for me to see a mockumentary that actually looked beautiful.
The acting was also spot on. Even though there is nothing too dramatic or challenging for an actor, the comedic timing and intonation was great. Woody Allen’s character is consistently entertaining in all his awkward glory, and his wife, Louise (Janet Margolin) is a little shy, but always sweet and genuinely caring for her husband.
Take The Money And Run succeeds at constructing an interesting and amusing character with many quirks, making Virgil’s unique life infinitely entertaining to behold. It will constantly surprise you with gags that are solidly hilarious, even though they don’t affect or build off each other very much. My advice is to enjoy this film as soon as possible.
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(All ratings are out of five, with halves)
Story: **** 1/2
Dialogue: *** 1/2
Art Direction: *** 1/2
Overall “Film as Entertainment” Rating: **** 1/2
Overall “Film as Art” Rating: *** 1/2
Overall: **** 1/2