Just because she likes the same bizzaro crap you do doesn't mean she's your soulmate
Annie Hall is directed and co-written by Woody Allen, and also stars Allen. The film also stars Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, Paul Simon, Janet Margolin, Shelley Duvall, Christopher Walken, and Colleen Dewhurst. The film won the Oscars for Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actress, along with Best Picture.
Woody Allen is a filmmaker that I have no sort of real relationship with, at least, not in the same vein that I have a relationship with someone such as Steven Spielberg or Quentin Tarantino. For certain directors, writers, actors, and/or studios, I know the frame of mind I will get myself in when I hear about a new release from said director, writer, actor, or studio. Christopher Nolan is coming out with a new film? I expect it to be one of the best films of the year. Colin Trevorrow is writing the screenplay for a new film? Well, let's hope there's at least some semblance of logic and common sense. I am, at the time of this writing, unable to have such a mindset when it comes to Woody Allen films, mostly because I am not overly familiar with Allen's filmography and the kind of style he tries to bring to every one of his films. So that is to say I can only approach one of Allen's films like the 1977 Best Picture winner Annie Hall with an open mind with no real expectations. Actually, having no expectations is an incorrect notion: of course you should have some kind of expectation when you're dealing with a Best Picture-winning film.
Annie Hall is the second romantic comedy film to win Best Picture, the first being 1960's The Apartment. And yet, Annie Hall is known for being one of the most famous anti-rom-com's: we are told right away that this is a romantic relationship that isn't going to work out, so don't expect any happy, "drive away in the just got married limo" for these two love birds. It's so fitting that this kind of film would win Best Picture during the 1970's: the decade that really helped the award escape the grasp of mawkish romantic dramas and dated, biographical snooze-fests. Sure, Annie Hall is full of romantic scenes, but it's also a genuine look at how things are in real life when it comes to dating, romance, sex, and pretty much anything else that has to do with love. The film has a complete disregard for the whole soulmate narrative and the idea that two certain people are meant to be together. It's simply giving us an honest and effective assessment on a hard truth: a lot of relationships don't work out, because they weren't meant to be. Maybe it is a tad cynical, but that's the attitude that the 70's had.
So, Annie Hall is the story of comedian Alvy Singer (Allen) and his relationship with Annie Hall (Keaton). The two are smitten with each other at first, but over time, their relationship falls apart. Alvy wonders how it all went wrong. It's hard to say that there's something resembling a plot here: the film is told in a more non-linear format, going back and forth between various moments in Alvy and Annie's relationship, as well as showing us moments of Alvy's childhood, such as Alvy questioning his mother on existence and other philosophical questions that have no clear answers.
The one other film that comes to mind when thinking about Annie Hall is Marc Webb's (500) Days of Summer, and if you've seen (500) Days of Summer, it's easy to see how Annie Hall was a major source of inspiration. Both Annie Hall and (500) Days of Summer are told from the perspective of the male protagonist, in which they ponder the story of a failed relationship: how it started, the good times that were had, and how the relationship went wrong in the end. What's important to remember is that neither Annie Hall nor (500) Days of Summer are told from a male perspective because they have some sort of agenda against women, but because they want to show us that Alvy Singer and Tom Hansen can't use their respective lovers as objects to project fantasies on to. Since we're talking about Annie Hall, I think I should just stick with that film. Anyway, Annie Hall tells us early on that Alvy Singer has never been one for love and relationships, but even when he does find someone he loves, he cannot get away with thinking that Annie is there to put him on cloud nine and to be that magical figure that can cure all his woes. Annie is still a living, breathing human being who eventually sees Alvy's insecurities, and that they're only making the relationship more difficult to maintain. The film primarily shows us Alvy's side of the story because it's his own failures that contribute the most to the failed relationship.
- The role of Annie Hall was written specifically with Diane Keaton in mind, so it's no wonder that she provides the best performance in the entire film. The thing that makes Keaton's performance so great is how down-to-Earth she is allowed to be. She doesn't need to act overly cheery or mopey because the plot demands for her to do so; she is able to treat each scene with genuine emotion, and that's why the relationship between Alvy and Annie feels whole and incredibly realistic. I think Woody Allen was very meticulous in the way he went about writing the Annie Hall character, with the mind set that Diane Keaton would agree to the role, and assuming she agreed, she could feel as if she was playing herself and not a character that would require extensive behind-the-scenes research and be something completely out of her comfort zone. Although the character was conceived by Woody Allen, Keaton is given the freedom to approach the role and act in it the way she sees fit. In other words, Allen handles the concept; Keaton makes the true magic happen in the execution.
- Woody Allen brings an unconventional style to the film, one that not only is meant to bolster the film as a comedy, but one that also likes to play around with the typical romance narrative. The film's opening scene is Woody Allen talking directly to the audience, which is just the first of many occasions in which the film passes right through the fourth wall. It's not just breaking the fourth wall- this happens repeatedly with characters stepping aside to speak directly to the camera-, though I will say that Woody Allen breaking the fourth wall is his way of getting through to the audience; he wants to interact with us and intrude our viewing space. Allen also makes satirical work out of moments that you could say are formulaic in other rom-coms. For example, there's a scene where Alvy and Annie are having their first extended talk, drinking wine and laughing together out on a balcony. In a typical romance film, this would be the, "first-meeting that is also a bit flirtatious" scene, but instead of just Alvy and Annie making friendly conversation, we see mental subtitles that tell us these two are having inner doubts, which comically contrasts with the seemingly happy and romantic small talk. There's also several moments where we see the modern day Alvy and Annie actually watching moments from Alvy's childhood. Alvy's mother would bicker with his father, and Annie would ask, "Did your mother really say that?" No matter what wacky or unexpected style trick that Woody Allen throws at you, it always has purpose and never takes you out of the movie.
- In what is an extreme rarity for older Best Picture winners, Annie Hall is nice and short at only 93 minutes. So it's odd: despite the short running time, the movie starts to drag in its second half. This is the downside of Woody Allen playing around with an unconventional narrative structure and giving the movie no semblance of a plot outside of Alvy and Annie getting together, having several romantic experiences, and then breaking up. It's fine and all that Annie Hall likes to be non-linear and go back and forth at various moments in the story, but the problem is that Woody Allen doesn't know how to keep everything organized, so that we can still see where the story is going and where it will be when all is said and done. The movie reaches a point where it's aimlessly spinning its wheels, because we're still watching the exact same thing we did in the first half: Alvy and Annie having a good time, then arguing, and then having a good time again. This cycle keeps going and going up until a discussion between Alvy and Annie in Los Angeles that represents the movie telling us, "okay, this is the end of the relationship." At least in (500) Days of Summer, we had something of a timeline so that we could keep track of the central relationship and know how much longer it will last. No such luxury in Annie Hall, which mightily struggles to stave off boredom and monotony in its second half. It's unfortunately a case of a short film feeling a lot longer than it actually is.
Even after watching Annie Hall, the 1977 Best Picture winner and Woody Allen's arguably best film to date, I still don't think I have a clear picture of how I think I should feel towards Allen and his artistic, film-making decisions. I certainly have no animosity towards the guy, and especially not towards Annie Hall: an enjoyable, anti-rom-com that is bolstered by a stand-out Diane Keaton performance and an unconventional narrative structure, where Woody Allen wants to be part of your viewing experience as much as possible. Sadly, the movie loses a lot of momentum in its second half: where the lack of a concrete plot starts to rear its ugly head. As much as the movie has to fight off boredom, it's never a complete chore to sit through, especially at just 93 minutes and when Diane Keaton's undeniable charm could carry the movie on its own. It's a very fitting film for its original time of release: the 70's. I might have a hard time though, saying that Annie Hall is an all-time classic that should sit at the top of the rom-com pedestal. Maybe it's at the top of Woody Allen's pedestal, but other wildly prestigious honors are a bit too far out of its reach.
Recommend? Yes. Watch it for Diane Keaton's performance and Woody Allen's unconventional narrative structure.
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