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Review - Burning Annie

August 30th, 2004

Burning Annie tells the story of Max, a college student who is obsessed with Woody Allen's Oscar winning movie Annie Hall. After his best friend suggests that the film is a curse he tries to avoid the movie in an attempt to improve his love life.

Max, (played by newcomer Gary Lundy) is a highly neurotic college student. How neurotic? Well for starters, he uses his college radio show as a sort of free therapy, so he reacts to people listen to his show like it's an invasion of privacy. He's friends with Charles, (Brian Klugman) an actor / director who is equally unlucky in love, as long as you don't count actresses; Sam, (Jay Paulson) a Chemistry major who's own long-term relationship is running on empty and Beth, (Kim Murphy Zandell) who used to be his closest friend till they tried to date. They have a yearly tradition of watching Annie Hall together, but when Charles put forth the theory that the movie is responsible for their miserable love life Max decides to avoid the movie at all costs. Something that is easier said than done, especially when Julie, (Sara Downing) enters his life.

When I was given the chance to review the film I was a little hesitant, after all I haven't seen the movie Annie Hall and I was worried that I'd miss out on some of the references. Would half the jokes go over my head? But as it turns out that wasn't a problem. For instance, Max mentions the, "Lobster Scene" and I immediately knew what scene he was talking about. Annie Hall is just so pervasive in today's pop culture that even if you haven't seen it, chances are you more than enough about it to enjoy this film.

On a similar note, the movie also make references to other, Gen-X, films like Swingers and the films of Kevin Smith. And while I am very familiar with these films making it harder to judge, being unfamiliar with those movies wouldn't hinder your appreciation of this one.

Those of us with a penchant for witty retorts and self-deprecating humor will find lots to relate to in Max. He seems to treat human interaction has merely an excuse for firing his latest repartee or snappy insult, most of which are aimed at himself. A couple of times other characters call him on his tendency to turn everything into a joke; and there's some truth to that sentiment. Obviously a film of this nature lives and dies on its dialogue and having dialogue as witty as this film has is a big plus. However, if the characters sound like they are being witty just for the sake of being witty, then the film seems insincere. And while there were times I was worried the film might cross into that territory, it never did.

That is not to say there were no problems with this movie. Some of the secondary cast members are not as strong as the principle cast members, either due to uneven writing or acting that was flat or otherwise wanting. This made some of the side relationships less engrossing. Also, the relationship between Max and Julie seems contrived at times, but it mostly came off really natural.

On a side note, After watching Burning Annie a couple of times for this review, I decided watch Annie Hall to see if it would change my opinion of the film. There are without doubt some theatrical styles borrowed from Annie Hall, such has the walking through fantasies and talking to the audience. And furthermore, some of the scenes in Burning Annie are very similar to scenes in Annie Hall, but this sort of homage is to be expected and knowing the specifics did add to the film.

Overall I really enjoyed this film, but it was very easy for me to associate with the lead character for more than just the reasons above. Early in the film he states, "I'm the only guy I know who gets insulted in his own fantasies." Which eerily parallels my life, as I'm the only person I know to get a negative fortune from a fortune cookie, ("Lower expectation to avoid disappointment.")

The film captures the whole college experience very well and should entertain on that level alone. The relationship between Max and Julie, and its affect on Max is compelling to watch. Even the simple interactions between Max and his friends result in some of the most memorable scenes in the film. All these factors combine to make this a wonderful film, one that I recommend seeing if the chance arises.

Burning Annie is currently without a distributor, but can be seen at many upcoming film festivals including Channel Islands Indie Film Festival, Big Bear Lake International Film Festival and WV Filmmakers Festival. Check out the Official Site for more details.

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