F.I.L.M. of the Week (July 29, 2011)

29 07 2011

Was “Midnight in Paris” not enough Woody Allen for you this summer?  Was his latest film so dazzling that you are suddenly curious to delve deeper into his extensive filmography?  If you answered yes to either of these questions, perhaps you ought to check out “Small Time Crooks,” Allen’s 2000 annual that bubbles with humor and excitement in a way that only he can deliver.

It’s a recipe for chaos when the blundering criminal Ray (Allen) asks his short-tempered manicurist wife Frenchy (Tracey Ullman) to be a front for his latest thieving operation.  She runs a cookie shop aboveground while he and his dim-witted partners from prison work underground to tunnel into the vault of the adjacent bank.  The success story, however, gets inverted when Frenchy’s cookies become a runaway sensation and Ray’s robbery totally fizzles.

All of a sudden, fast forward a year and Frenchy and Ray have incorporated their cookie company, coming into more money than they could ever dream of.  How they react, however, is totally different.  Ray wants to remain the same, humble to his low-brow roots, while Frenchy becomes obsessed with joining the elitist art crowd of New York City … which is less than happy to take in white trash with money like her.

Their divergent paths lead to inevitable humor as Ray becomes involved with Frenchy’s spacy cousin May (Elaine May) and Frenchy recruits a high-class aristocrat, David (Hugh Grant), to train her for entry into high society.  It’s not incredibly deep, but it’s a fun examination nonetheless of class in America and how money can affect some parts of our lives but leave other aspects totally unaffected.  And in that uniquely Woody Allen fashion, “Small Time Crooks” can make you laugh in spite of its mopiness and defeatism.

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