Generations of a family live together, seaside, in Rockaway, New York, and listen to the radio. Radio Days begins in the late 1930s. In 1942, Joe (Seth Green), writer-director Woody Allen’s surrogate, is 13 and enamored of the Masked Avenger, while other family members are either interested in other radio personalities or not (“He’s a ventriloquist on the radio. How do you know he’s not moving his lips?”). The film ends with two celebrations, worlds apart, on New Year’s Eve 1944: the family’s; celebrities, including radio personalities, at a posh nightclub. Allen narrates, mining memories and proffering asides. The result, modeled on Fellini’s Amarcord (1973), is funny and poignant—and nostalgic for radio, whose popularity television would supplant.
The film proceeds by vignettes, one of which hilariously suits images to an absurdly sentimentalized report of a legendary baseball player who loses leg, arm and sight in three separate hunting accidents, and through it all continues playing, evidencing “heart.” This recollection spins out as a metaphor for Joe’s Aunt Bea (Dianne Wiest), who is continually unlucky at romance, and for wartime America in general, which hopes for war’s end. The family, indeed the nation, tightens its bond when it hears that a missing child has been found dead.
Poor Aunt Bea! One boyfriend turns out to be married; another, gay. In a fog that Allen has lifted from Antonioni’s Identification of a Woman (1982), Bea’s date proves a coward when a facsimile of Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds seemingly announces a Martian invasion on the car radio.
Sally White (Mia Farrow) is a cigarette girl who studies hard to lose her accent—not British here—and becomes a show-biz gossip reporter: an hilarious send-up of Sheilah Graham.
The closing rooftop images sweep out the heart.
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