Annie Hall (1977)

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*. Like a lot of movies that have come to stand for a particular time and place, Annie Hall has dated. But does that make it any less enjoyable today?
*. Of course its brand of humour (postmodern, “neurotic” or “Jewish”) has had imitators, legions of them, with such popular later avatars of Alvy Singer as Garry Shandling and Jerry Seinfeld. So by now we’re very familiar with the shtick.
*. Then there’s been the long, miserable afterlife of Woody Allen, which I’ll try and sidestep here. But it’s hard to watch him today and not find him creepy in hindsight.
*. Recognizing all of that, I was surprised at how fresh this movie still seemed. It’s a film that was made through its editing, which changed not only the story’s focus but also must have impacted the pace considerably by cutting nearly an hour from the running time. At 93 minutes this is one of the shortest movies to ever win an Academy Award for Best Picture, and I’m always surprised at just how quick it is. It feels like it should be so much longer because it moves so quickly and packs so much in.
*. Sticking with the editing, it’s interesting that this wasn’t the movie Allen wanted to make. “When Annie Hall started out, that film was not supposed to be what I wound up with. The film was supposed to be what happens in a guy’s mind . . . Nobody understood anything that went on. The relationship between myself and Diane Keaton was all anyone cared about. That was not what I cared about . . . In the end, I had to reduce the film to just me and Diane Keaton, and that relationship, so I was quite disappointed in that movie.” So . . . another happy accident?

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*. Breaking down the fourth wall wasn’t new in 1977. What the opening here immediately makes me think of is Patton (1970) and The Godfather (1972), with a character directly addressing the camera. I wonder if Allen had those movies in mind.
*. I don’t like the “mental subtitles” because they’re too obvious. We can tell from the actors what they’re thinking (that Annie is nervous and worried about seeming ditzy, and that Alvy is only interested in having sex with her). Why gild the lily like this? What they’re thinking isn’t very interesting, and it’s not at all necessary to spell it out for us.
*. David Thomson: “The whole thing is very hip, very American New Wave, and disastrously empty.” I wonder if we’re wrong though to try and read too much into it. Sure this was Allen’s first serious or “adult” comedy, but that doesn’t mean it was trying to be profound. To leap ahead again to Seinfeld, it’s a bit of a movie about nothing.

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*. What do Annie and Alvy see in each other? Not much. Think about it: they’re not together very long. She is insecure (not stupid or airheaded but only anxious over appearing that way) and initially feels attracted to someone she thinks may be an intellectual. Alvy is attracted to someone who puts him on such a pedestal. That wasn’t going to last.
*. They aren’t necessarily incompatible but they are an awkward fit. Annie is one of those people that you just instinctively like. She’s happy, outgoing, friendly, natural, and a snappy dresser. Alvy is just the opposite, being someone who is both put off by other people and offputting himself. And he knows it, which makes it all worse. Annie makes him feel angry, selfish and possessive.
*. Does Alvy want to “improve” Annie in a sincere way, or does he want to infect her with his neuroses? He’s the one who sends her to a therapist, something which would turn into a rite of passage in this genre. This may have been Allen’s biggest, most successful trick: to make us think of Alvy as an Everyman, to make us believe that this was our life he was talking about. So eventually we would all need therapy.

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*. There are a lot of very nice, careful little touches. I like how as the movie begins we see Annie and Alvy arguing over going in to see a movie that’s already started. Alvy doesn’t want to enter a movie in the middle, but in fact that’s exactly what is happening as he begins the story of his romance with Annie in medias res, in the middle of things.
*. One of the things that has stayed fresh is the frankness in talking about sex. Even by today’s standards it’s remarkably adult. Or should that be “especially by today’s standards”? Movies haven’t grown up much in the past forty years. Perhaps they’ve even gone backward, regressing to early childhood fantasies.
*. What makes this even stranger is that Alvy isn’t a grown-up himself. It doesn’t even seem that weird to see him as an adult sitting in his old school classroom, or with his parents in his old home under the roller coaster. What he mainly wants from women is an audience. He leaves us with an old joke about going through the craziness of relationships because we need the eggs, but could we imagine him ever having kids of his own?

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