‘Play it Again, Sam’ and the Girl in the Museum Moment
A recently divorced film editor becomes obsessed with Humphrey Bogart’s Rick in Casablanca, wanting to be like the iconic film character, soon seeing the black and white figure in his imagination giving him advice as he slowly falls in love with his best friend’s wife.
Directed by Herbert Ross, Play it Again, Sam is a dark romantic comedy starring Woody Allen, based on his Broadway play. Playing Allan Felix, a similar love-lorn loser that has come to define Allen film characters, here he is hopelessly lost in his own fantasies, seeing a life-sized Humphrey Bogart (Rick Blaine) as an apparition who gives him love advice. His best friend’s wife Linda (Diane Keaton) is a kind and gentle woman who attempts to guide Felix back into dating, setting him up on various blind dates that all end in very bad ways. Naturally, Felix falls in love with Linda and all the while Bogart prods advice.
THE MUSEUM GIRL MOMENT
Spending time with Linda, Felix is becoming smitten as the married woman blissfully engages with him, not realizing the tantalizing effects she has on her dour and heartbroken friend. At an art museum the two stroll about the great paintings and even though they are surrounded by the works of masters, and they chit chat about them, the reason for their visit is simple: find Felix a girl. Strolling from one gallery to the next, Linda spots an extremely attractive waif (Diana Davila) admiring a Jackson Pollack, her open shirt plunging, her wavy hair draping, and her smoldering eyes inviting. Linda encourages Allan to go talk to her, but he is hesitant and resists at first, but eventually concedes, ambling to the young woman and offering a comment on the painting, a simple opening line about her impression of the art. The girl then, in a heavy, oppressive tone, recounts how the image restates the negativeness of the universe before continuing on with a long, depressingly dark view of our horrifically doomed planet and the meaningless existence of human life in the void of nothingness. Undaunted, Allen replies by asking her what she’s doing on Saturday, to which she says,”Committing suicide.” Without missing a step, he counters, “What about Friday night?”
WHY IT MATTERS
Woody Allen has made a career out of trying to get the girl he can’t have in his movies, a parable on what many see as a reality of life, wanting but not able to have the things we desire. Here, as he falls for the enchanting Linda, a naive but intelligent woman who doesn’t realize herself how much she is attracted to the comfort of Felix’s company, he encounters another alluring girl that on the surface is stunning, a girl he is convinced from the start is wholly out of his league, but prodded by Linda, attempts to greet. His approach is smooth, the magnificent art a great way to start a conversation, which he figures would be light and short, as social rules typically dictate. Instead, her response is a diatribe of ache and sorrow, an intense interpretation of the harrows of being alive in a bleak, unforgiving life. Her raspy, monotone delivery is almost painful to hear as she sucks the very joy out of being in her beautiful presence, her dreary thoughts the antithesis to her lovely appearance. But none of that matters to Felix, who is already in a state of perpetual depression, and in his abject loneliness, only thinks of her as a passing partner in the sad ride of life she is talking about. What she says doesn’t matter, it’s all about filling the space next to him, even for a little while, especially as he knows he can’t have Linda. He doesn’t really even absorb the words she is says, simply waiting patiently for her to stop so he can ask her out, her reply just an obstacle that requires another option. For her, she gets that, and it’s why she responds as she does. We don’t actually believe she is committing suicide, only that she is telling him he is so not worthy of her time, ending her life would be a better choice.
The moment has great power because of two things: a) the wonderfully acerbic script, and b) the depth and impact of the delivery. The writing is pitch perfect and the setup and punchline work very well, but it is the performances that make this so memorable. It’s easy to fall under the spell of Davila’s deceptively deep reading of her lines, her magnetic face and mesmerizing voice make it hard to draw your eyes away, but Felix is equally important, standing next to her as she speaks. He arrives with nervous expectation, the hope of a new connection, even the possibility of sex are driving him toward her, his face not highly expressive, but hopeful. As she explains to him how the painting makes her feel, things change ever so subtly behind the big lenses of his glasses. She basically ruins him, the weight of her words crushing his spirit and drive, reminding him how pathetic he already feels. It’s a wonder to watch. And it explains why he ignores her attempt at something intellectual and dives right in for the empty invite for a date. This is a great moment and one Woody Allen’s best, a blistering commentary on relationships, life, and love all in the span of two minutes.
Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts