Friday, July 24, 2009

A Review: What's Up, Doc? (1972)

Yesterday at the library, I finally came across this film (a film that I had been wanting to see for a while-the only place I saw it was at a dvd shop, and well, I didn't want to buy it in case I didn't like it). I loved it.

The film was directed by Peter Bogdanovich, one of the most devoted cinephiles of the world (I just read last night that in his youth he would see up to 400 films in one year-wow). He also happened to be an avid fan of classic cinema, and this film is an ode to one of the classic genre's: the screwball comedy. Here's a definition of the genre (according to wiktionary): A genre of motion picture made in Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s where opposites were juxtaposed; characterized by snappy dialog, and a blend of sophistication and slapstick.

The leading actors in this film are two of the definitive stars of the 70s, Barbra Stresiand (famous singer, but also great actor of Funny Girl and The Way We Were) and Ryan O'Neal (famous for Love Story--which is parodied in this film--and Paper Moon). They are supported by a great, madcapped cast.

I find that even though the film was a homage to screwball comedy, it still had its own unique feel. That might partly be because it's set in modern day (that is, the 70s for them) San Francisco, rather than instilled in the Golden Age past. But also partly because of Peter Bogdanovich and his team, who have been undoubtedly influenced by veins of comedy beyond the screwball genre (if that makes sense). Anyway, I like it all the better for what it is. You get both an entertaining, unique comedy, but also enough homage to potentially make people want to explore the screwball genre.

One of the elements in the film that is very screwball comedy (for lack of synonyms to interchange this term with) is that the lead male Howard (Ryan O'Neal) is a stiff-necked businessman who is more concerned with his paelontological career (a direct homage to Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby) than living a romantic, adventurous, unpredictable life. His female lead Judy (Barbra Streisand) is the opposite--she plays the madcap heroine who brings Howard to the edge (but then Howard comes to realise he loves the edge).

On a side-note: I found it interesting that she constantly called him 'Steve' rather than his actual name (this simultaneously reminded me of two non-screwball films, but with decidedly screwball elements--which is arguably what What's Up Doc? is-- : To Have and Have Not, where Lauren Bacall calls Humphrey Bogart's Harry Morgan "Steve"; and Pierrot le fou, where Anna Karina calls Jean-Paul Belmondo's Ferdinand "Pierrot").

There are so many inspired moments of comedy, it's one of those films where the cast looks like they're having a whole lot of fun--in fact there's a behind-the-scenes featurette on the special features that suggests just that. There was a particularly candid, blooper moment when Ryan O'Neal's character asks Barbra "Where's my rocks?" and she just broke out in laughter. He then asked lightly to someone behind the camera-probably Peter Bogdanovich, "Why does she always laugh when I say that? I thought my reading of the line was pretty good."

I have much gratitude for comedies as wonderful as this. <3

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