And so starts Annie Hall, Woody Allen’s classic examination of love in the modern world.
I consider this to be his masterpiece–a very funny, smart, and often poignant look at modern relationships, from the perspective of a neurotic New Yorker. This movie has been a part of my life for a very long time, lines from it have been appropriated by my family and I know just about every scene by heart. Coming from a rather neurotic Jewish family myself, the main character is essentially a composite of every person in my family. And as such it is very much beloved.
The story concerns itself with Alvie Singer, a comedian who insists that he grew up in Brooklyn underneath the roller coaster, though his analyst says he exaggerates his childhood memories. He recalls being neurotic as a child about the universe expanding:
All this serves to strengthen Alvie’s character for the duration of the movie. Despite his neuroses (or perhaps because of them), Alvie is a VERY strong and well-developed character. In fact, I believe that the character development in this movie, of all the characters, is perhaps one of the best in the history of film. Even the minor characters that only appear in one scene (Annie’s grandmother, for example, who Alvie refers to as a “classic Jew-hater”) have a real biography and history behind them. The scenes with Alvie’s other relationship partners are also wonderful examples of this:
Carol Kane as “Allison Porchnik”
Shelley Duvall as “Pam”
The character of Annie Hall herself is established very skillfully right away, partly due to Allen’s brilliant writing, partly to the masterful direction and I think the majority is due to Diane Keaton’s completely natural ability in the character of Annie. It is said that Annie Hall was based on Keaton herself–she had dated Woody Allen in the early 1970’s, and if one is aware that her original last name was Hall and she was called “Annie” as a child, it certainly seems more than likely.
The story is told in a series of flashbacks, and the flashback sequence where Alvie meets Annie for the first time is a true testament to Keaton’s brilliance in capturing the character:
From this scene, we begin to see the relationship between Annie and Alvie develop, through a series of revelatory scenes that connect the two characters psychologically and develop their characters as they relate to each other. Their relationship is more one of “opposites attract” than a true kinship, and their status as an “unlikely couple” gives the film much of its quirky charm.
Another recurring theme in this movie is intellectualism, with an almost incessant dropping of names and references to major figures in literature, popular culture, and psychology. In a classic scene, at the very beginning of the film, we really see what intellect means to Alvie, for better or for worse:
Alvie, as we are reminded multiple times throughout the film, has been in therapy for 15 years and wants Annie to go, too. He pays for her sessions, and this concept of their both being in therapy paves the way for lots of intellectual discussions about the nature of psychology. Alvie seems very concerned about Annie and her lack of depth, as he perceives it, and he tries to get Annie to expand her intellectual horizons by going to adult education courses. When she does, and begins to crush on her professor, Alvie ridicules intellectualism in general because it interferes with his own intentions with Annie.
The whole film is really a game, playing with the audience in regard to the characters, their insecurities, and their general humanity. It lacks a traditional ending, with Allen preferring, I think, to keep the movie entirely real and more like an examination of characters rather than just a piece of entertainment. It certainly succeeds, and it won Best Actress (Diane Keaton), Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Picture at the 1977 Oscars.
Here is Diane Keaton giving her Oscar speech:
Annie Hall is a favorite of film fans and is widely available. You might have a tougher time finding it at the huge movie outlets, as it’s still considered an offbeat movie appealing only to certain audiences (because it’s so intellectual), but Netflix has it, and most independent movie outlets have it, and you generally shouldn’t have too much trouble finding it at all. It’s VERY funny, very quirky, the writing is impeccable and it is a truly joyful movie experience.
Thank you to Marya at Diary of a Film Awards Fanatic for hosting this blogathon!