An Appreciation – Annie Hall

The fact that Alvy and Annie were made for one another only adds to the realization that the relationship was doomed to begin with. Alvy, with all of his neuroses and his fear of happiness, lays the groundwork that will ultimately sabotage the relationship. He does this almost immediately: hesitating at the idea that they move in with each other, suggesting that Annie take college classes and then questioning her relationship with her teacher, not wanting to go out and try different things, and being nervous about the idea of her following an opportunity to advance her musical career. It’s almost sad to see the relationship unfold knowing where it will eventually end up, because the good times that we see them have are truly lovely. Their walks in the park, cooking food together, going to Alvy’s old home underneath the roller coaster, and meeting Annie’s odd family, including her suicide-obsessed brother Duane (Christopher Walken): all of these scenes and moments are both funny and charming at the same time. I would say that the peak of their relationship is the moment they share by the waterfront, where Annie asks Alvy if he loves her, to which he replies that “love” is too weak a word to describe his feelings. Unfortunately, life had other plans for both Alvy and Annie, and the closing passages of the film involve them making the decisions that eventually pull them apart, but knowing full well that what they had was truly one of a kind.

Woody Allen is a director who has been said to make the same kind of movie over and over again. I will say that yes, many of his characters and plotlines have similarities, but I will also suggest that all of his films have their own style and identity. No two films are exactly the same. Allen is a more creative director than he is given credit for, this film being one of his best examples. One of the film’s best strengths is the way in which Allen opens up the confines of traditional filmmaking, and allows it to have a stream of consciousness structure. We jump from the middle of Annie and Alvy’s relationship to the end, to the beginning, and back around again. The film is almost unpredictable with where it goes; Alvy can say something about his childhood, and then all of a sudden the film will jump to a young Alvy back in Brooklyn. You can almost compare this to a French New Wave film, because there is no boundary that prohibits Allen from telling his story. He breaks the fourth wall and addresses the viewer directly, often times right in the middle of a scene. Characters physically enter flashbacks of their younger selves and comment on what’s happening, and there’s even an animated scene where Alvy talks about his weird fascination with the wicked queen in Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs (1937). A great scene that comes to mind is when Alvy and Annie wait in line to see a movie, with a pretentious media professor loudly pontificating his opinion right into Alvy’s ear. When the professor talks about Marshall McLuhan, Alvy becomes so annoyed that he actually goes around a corner to retrieve the actual person in question to dismiss the professor’s viewpoints. Oh, if that could only happen in real life.

The film would win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and rightfully so. Not only does the film have its unique structure, it also has brilliant dialogue. No other movie, in my mind, has as many cultural references than this one does. Allen would reference everything from Federico Fellini to Balzac to Norman Rockwell, and everything in between. Even today, after seeing the film a number of times, I’ll still find a cultural reference or some witty intellectual joke that I’ve just now come to understand. The dialogue between the characters is the best you’ll find in any movie. The film is made up of nothing but talking; characters talk to each other and about each other constantly. But that doesn’t mean the film drags, because it doesn’t. I would say that the monologues are some of the best highlights of the film; no two conversations are alike and none are ever not entertaining.

What the film boils down to, what makes the movie so memorable, is the chemistry that Woody Allen and Diane Keaton share. They are the models for what will become the modern romantic couple, influencing everything from When Harry Met Sally (1989) to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). What the two actors share here is undeniable, stemming from the fact that they were once romantically linked (the very title of the film is a play on Keaton’s own childhood nickname). But what an interesting duo they make, Allen with his thinning hair and big glasses, and Keaton with her unique, non-classical beauty and eccentric personality; they are not your traditional Hollywood couple. Like Astaire and Rogers, Allen and Keaton have a bond that resonates in its own special way, but instead of a dance floor, their specialty is in words. They work together in a way that only they can accomplish, and although both have worked with other people successfully, neither would capture the kind of magic that they have with each other. Their chemistry would lead to eight films together, the last one being Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) which, interestingly, was intended to be a plot thread in this very film but was dropped from the final cut. This may be wishful thinking, but I hope the two will find a way to work with each other at least one more time; it’s hard to think of one without thinking about the other.

I wonder if Woody Allen is still highly regarded in today’s moviegoing world. He has made a host of great movies, perhaps pushed away because of one’s personal feelings for the man himself. But there is no denying that he has made some of the most interesting, thought-provoking, and entertaining films of the last 35 years. I feel that his very best are this film, Manhattan (1979), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), Radio Days (1987), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), Everyone Says I Love You (1996), Sweet and Lowdown (1999), and Match Point (2005). Annie Hall is perhaps his most recognizable film, the one that he is most associated with. This is understandable, because it is a film that is so fresh, so brimming with inventiveness and life, that it’s hard not to fall in love with it, despite knowing its outcome. By time we reach the final shot of the movie, with those cars moving down that empty street, we don’t feel a sense of loss, but rather a sense of catharsis and fulfillment. We don’t remember the events that led up to this moment, but the times where everything seemed to be exactly as they should be—where two people, for a brief span of time, were happy.

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Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

You can reach Allen via email or Twitter

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