BURNING ANNIE (2004)
Starring Gary Lundy, Sara Downing, Kim Murphy Zandell, Brian Klugman, Jay Paulson, Rini Bell, Todd Duffey, Kathleen Rose Perkins, Jason Risner, Carrie Freedle, Keith Page, David Hall, Alex Bolano, Evan Price and Jaisey Bates.
Screenplay by Zack Ordynans.
Directed by Van Flesher.
Distributed by Armak Productions. 94 minutes. Not Rated.
Woody Allen’s Annie Hall had the tag line “A Nervous Romance” when it was released in 1977. Forty years later, Annie Hall is arguably the high-water mark of Allen’s highly acclaimed, but rather inconsistent body of work – the perfect melding of his funny and his serious sensibilities. It was a Best Picture Winner (beating out such strong competition as Star Wars) and is considered a stone-cold classic to this day.
Still, all these decades later, was the world really waiting around for an indie film about a college student who obsessively clings to Annie Hall as a personal and romantic guidebook for his life?
This sweet, quirky, but ultimately just slightly odd film has been rescued from the dustbin of forgotten independent features to get a full release on all digital and streaming platforms in honor of its tenth anniversary. (Well, technically the film is 13 years old, but it had a brief New York theatrical run in 2007.)
The story is as simple as it is meta. A college student, and his best friends, use Woody Allen’s Annie Hall as a life primer. He walks, talks, and acts like a middle-aged Jewish man.
That character is named Max (which, pointedly, was Tony Roberts character’s nickname for Woody Allen’s character in Annie Hall), a cynical WASP college student who is obsessed by the movie. Max is played by Gary Lundy, who at the time was hot off of a performance in indie darling Donnie Darko. He is deeply cynical about life and romance, traits shared and magnified by his best friends. (These friends also humor his Annie Hall fixation and act accordingly to the film.)
The film mostly revolves around Max’s relationship with Julie (Sara Downing, who at the time was in the TV series Roswell), a gorgeous, smart and neurotic student who becomes Max’s own personal “Annie Hall.” Like in the older film they are extremely different sorts: he is jaded and aloof, she is open and giving. He is rich, she is of more modest means. He claims to believe that romance is a sham, and yet he is desperate for true love. She believes in true love, but is somewhat afraid to surrender to it.
Part of the problem about Burning Annie, and more specifically about Max and his friends’ lives, is that they are convinced that Annie Hall is a primer about how true love survives all. (One character even makes an impassioned argument for this reading of the film.)
Yet, in Annie Hall, true love did not survive. It was not enough. It was destined to frustrate and ultimately disappoint you and leave you yearning and feeling empty inside. As Alvy Singer (Allen) explained to Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) in the original film: “A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”
Max and his buddies have a whole school of dead sharks, but none are willing to let go of what is not working.
Burning Annie does a good job of mimicking Annie Hall’s essence – even visual cues and playing on lines and scenes – while also having an aesthetic which is completely foreign from the original. (Can you imagine Woody Allen, Diane Keaton and Tony Roberts sprawled out on the couch playing video hockey?) The characters’ obsessions with relationships, and the deep psychological and sociological ramifications of life, sometimes feel a little odd coming from a bunch of college students, but it fits with the source material.
For the record, the jokes in Burning Annie are not at the level of the jokes in Annie Hall, not by a long shot. Yet, there is still something lovable about Burning Annie, a sweet bruised optimism and a kind-but-jaded heart. Maybe that is enough.
Maybe we want to give a nice little DIY film the benefit of the doubt and allow it to find the audience that it missed the first time out.
Maybe we just need the eggs.
If you get that reference, then chances are you might enjoy Burning Annie.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2017 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 12, 2017.