It appears that 1977 was one of the best years for romantic-comedies, ever. With two up for best picture, one taking home the prize and both bringing genuine smiles to my face, romantic-comedies from the late 70’s may have more to show me still. Annie Hall is about a neurotic New York comedian, Alvy Singer (Woody Allen directing himself), who falls in love with a fun-loving woman, Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). The film explores their relationship, with Alvy leading the narration in a variety of ways, from a simple voice-over, breaking the fourth wall, watching and commenting on scenes from his past and even a short animation fantasy.
Alvy is one of those unforgettable characters that you can love, but wouldn’t want to hang out with. He only reads books with Death in the title, enjoys watching documentaries about the holocaust and always suspects the worst in people. He tries to compensate for all his paranoia, insecurities, self loathing and anal tendencies with a constant stream of jokes. Alvy is a real downer in a funny way. It seems that he is simply never happy, and there’s always something rubbing him the wrong way to complain about: a know-it-all who knows nothing behind him waiting for a movie, Annie becoming friends with her professor and the entire state of California.
Thing is, Annie seems to be equally neurotic, but in a positive light. She’s outgoing, adventurous and willing to try new things, but always self conscious. While Alvy is a stand-up comedian, she is a wannabe singer, well aware how terribly awkward her venues are. In these moments, it’s Alvy who has to turn on a positive light. But overall, the relationship is strained because both Annie and Alvy are stubborn about what they want. And Alvy becomes jealous at how quickly Annie is progressing in therapy, while he’s been going for fifteen years with no breakthrough.
The element that really sets this film apart from the conventional romantic-comedy is Woody Allen’s charismatic way of mixing fantasy with reality. Some of the greatest moments in the film come when Alvy is breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly. Considering that Alvy is a stand-up comedian, this comes naturally and isn’t jarring at all, the film even begins this way with a great monologue. One of my favorite moments is when Alvy confronts the loud know-it-all behind him in line for a movie and even has the director handy to weigh in and tell the guy he’s full of crap. The real kicker is when Alvy turns to us and says, “Boy, if only life were like this.”
Sometimes these fantastic elements help address an idea or situation in a visual way. When Alvy is a little annoyed that Annie only makes love to him while high, she agrees to go to bed without her usual hit. Then we see a ghost of Annie suddenly removed from her body in bed and sitting across the room watching. Alvy asks, “Are you with me? You seem sort of distant.” A moment later, the Annie-ghost gets bored and asks where her drawing pad is and Alvy, annoyed, gestures towards the ghost, “You see, that’s what I call removed.” The whole scene is simple, and completely understood with just a touch of fantasy.
The great thing about Annie Hall is that neither character is perfect, and they both realize this. In the end, their mutual friendship is still in tact, even if their relationship isn’t. I believe most people today would enjoy Annie Hall, it’s funny, witty with a good mix of comedic variety. And if we’re the stoic type, that wonders why a guy like Alvy would bother trying to find love, he has the perfect joke to explain it.
“Most of us, need the eggs.”