on 4 March 2005
Woody Allen transitioned from a very funny writer/actor/director, to a truly brilliant filmmaker with "Annie Hall." I saw this landmark movie again and was amazed at how well it holds up over time, and how pristine the film looks on DVD. Like Allen's earlier works, this is hilariously funny, but beneath the humor lies a poignant love story of two mismatched, neurotic people. It is a focused film that takes a mature look at modern urban relationships. The witty, clever screenplay is one of the reasons for its enduring popularity, regardless of the audience's demographics.
Alvy Singer, (Woody Allen), is a pessimistic, insecure, angst-ridden, short, Jewish New Yorker, originally from Brooklyn, just like Mr. Allen. Obviously, there are autobiographical elements here. Singer used to be a gag writer for comedians, but made a career decision to do his own comic stand-up routine. When we meet him for the first time, he has already become a star...and is still very neurotic. "Life is full of loneliness, misery, suffering, and unhappiness - and it's all over much too quickly," he says. Singer has a spurt of good luck, however, when he meets ditsy, charming Annie Hall, originally from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Diane Keaton is outstanding in the role - she won an Academy Award for Best Actress, and began a funky clothes trend with her wardrobe that lasted for a few years. If Alvy is New York seeded rye bread, then Annie is a somewhat tightly-wound, Wonder Bread WASP. She actually orders a pastrami sandwich on white bread with mayo in a local deli - that's like ordering fettuccine with ketchup in an Italian trattoria. It's a wonder that when the two have their first conversation they don't go into instant culture shock. Alvy may have poor self esteem, but Annie sure does like him. They appear to be having a wonderful time together too, as in the scene where they chase live lobsters around the kitchen floor, trying to cook a seafood dinner. Alvy's anhedonia, (the inability to enjoy oneself), seems to abandon him temporarily as the romance flourishes.
"Annie Hall" gets much of its comedy from mundane, everyday occurrences. I actually wonder if Jerry Seinfeld didn't derive some inspiration for his hit sitcom from Allen's film. One of the more brilliant scenes occurs when Singer goes to Annie's apartment, for the first time, right after they meet, for a drink and some getting-to-know-you conversation. As they make small talk, sub-titles appear on the screen, stating what the two are actually thinking: Alvy: "I wonder what she looks like naked," Annie: "He's too smart for me; hang in there." There is also an outrageous split screen sequence of Annie and Alvie in therapy sessions, with their respective shrinks, discussing their relationship. His therapist asks if they have sex often, hers asks the same. He replies, "Hardly ever! Maybe three times a week." Annie responds, "Constantly! I'd say three times a week." Also fantastic are the wacky sequences with Annie's Midwestern family, (Colleen Dewhurst is wonderful as Annie's mother, and Christopher Walken, her spooky brother, is beyond weird). Singer comments on how different his Brooklyn family is from her Midwestern relations. Then the screen splits and we see Annie's family talking quietly over dinner, while Alvy's boisterous family, bicker over their Passover meal. As the romance progresses, Alvy's previous relationships with wives numbers 1 and 2 are depicted through a series of flashbacks.
There are problems and rough spots, as with most relationships. Alvy keeps trying to turn Annie into the woman he wants her to be. When he pushes her to go back to college and take some classes, she gains new confidence - and develops a crush on one of her professors. The plot thickens when Annie meets a hit record producer who offers her a job in Los Angeles. Alvy goes along, temporarily, to do a TV special. One of Woody Allen's pet peeves is California, and life on the left coast as compared to life in NYC, so you can bet there is plenty of scathing commentary about Hollywood. Although many know how Annie and Alvy wind up, I won't spoil it for those who don't. However, if you have not seen "Annie Hall," you are really missing something phenomenal. And if you have seen it, and don't have it in your DVD collection, you might want to reconsider.
The film is done in non-linear form, and Allen's use of split screens techniques, animated characters, direct-to-camera narration, and occasional subtitles, are extremely effective, creative and innovative. Allen won Oscars for Best Director and Best Screenplay, and was nominated for Best Actor for "Annie Hall." There are cameos by: Christopher Walken, Shelley Duvall, Carol Kane, Janet Margolin, Marshall MacLuhan, Dick Cavet, John Glover, Jeff Goldblum, Beverly D'Angelo and Sigourney Weaver.
So what is the point of this fabulous movie, besides lots of laughs and terrific acting? Well, Groucho Marx used to say, "I'd never belong to a club that would have someone like me as a member." The primary message here is that to be loved, one has to love oneself first. Of course Woody Allen is also saying that love is annoying and pointless, as are relationships in general - but we need them.