Movies about people obsessed with movies make me smile.
Sometime in the late ’90s, I came across a movie on cable that perfectly expressed the wild imagination I have when it comes to movies. It was called Enchanted and it was about a young video store clerk with the ability to inspire the lives of his friends, but not of his own. He would often act out his frustrations and insecurities through fantasy scenes from classic movies, causing much strain for those who want him to grow up. The story is universal, but the details felt personal, made almost for me.
The character of Max in Burning Annie too feels personal. In college, Max converses with friends and strangers with the same logic of a Twitter newbie; every sentence must be witty or else it’s not worth saying. When not wallowing in pessimism on his graveyard shift radio show, he wallows in a rather self-sabotaging point of view of relationships, confirmed for him by the classic Annie Hall. Things start to change, however, when he meets Julie. She’s smart, pretty, and, for some reason, is not put off by hopeless self doubt, over analysis and indecisiveness. Perfect, right?
Much like the world Max creates around him, the movie he inhabits is frustrating and unsure. These are technical issues that are very hard to ignore; obvious A.D. work, confusing transitions and dialogue aiming for high cleverness that settles for awkwardness. Max likes to shoot with his words, but he doesn’t always score. Lines scripted for wit fall flat and make him seem like he’s trying too hard. Way too hard. This could be part of the insecurities that envelop him, presented as an ear-splitting symptom. In fact, this theory is sort of confirmed when, in the end, he says he’s gonna “shut up” and the person he says this to smiles. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if this flick ends with an arc of self restraint?
Burning Annie’s strength is in its lead characters’ shift from unwavering stagnation to mature optimism. For the longest time, he’s only preferred Annie Hall, shunning any attempts to watch Manhattan or anything else in Woody’s catalog. He subscribes to an unfortunate view of love, based on an interpretation that few agree with. Having met Julie, he sees the popular view he so harshly opposed. Just like in Robert Altman’s MASH, it sometimes takes a fling to brighten someone’s outlook.
College was reminiscent of Burning Annie. Not in what is shown, but how it is felt. We were all so tragically cynical and quick to comment. Of course, years later, I’ve become a film critic, although my outlook isn’t as heightened as it once was. When Max graduates (or drops out), he’ll soon see that. Maybe he’ll also see Zelig. What a great movie to base a personal philosophy off of.
3 / 5
Originally published in PROPAGANDA New Orleans.