Jul 21 2008
It’s very many years since I first saw Annie Hall, Woody Allen’s classic masterpiece, and I was looking forward to catching it again as part of the Jameson Movie in the Square season. I was not prepared, however, to enjoy it as much as I did. I laughed so much and went away feeling uplifted by a very non-Hollywood ending.
Annie Hall is an exercise in relationship study. While charting the rise and fall of the relationship between Alvy Singer and Annie Hall, we are given insights into all relationships looking at the previous two marriages of Alvy and the altogether more successful (but no less self-destructive) Annie/Alvy years. There is no strict plot and the movie seems to play out like Allen is telling us a story where he remembers a number of other tangents as he’s going along. It works. It works beautifully where each tangent seems to give insight and clarification on the preceding scene. It is evident that Allen worked without fear making this movie – it does not conform to Hollywood (particularly not the Hollywood of 1977) and the movie’s structure and ending probably didn’t look great on paper. It is a mish-mash of ideas thrown together to try to explain a failed relationship. But it really does work.
Perhaps, all these years on (I think it’s about eight or nine years since I last saw it), I have a new perspective on the movie. I can now appreciate Allen‘s commentary on relationships; I can understand his obscure references (I didn’t know who Fellini or Freud were when I watched it as a teen). With my new point of view I felt I appreciated this movie far more than when I was younger. Don’t get me wrong, on Saturday night I still laughed uproariously at the sex jokes and the cocaine scene, but I found the subtler comic moments just as funny this time around and this time I could enjoy the sweeter moments where Alvy and Annie were falling in love and where he encouraged her singing career. With this watching, the ‘lobsters in the kitchen’ scene was to be one of my favourite moments, where the natural life comedy played out, allowing the general joie de vivre take over. It is in these seemingly spontaneous moments that Allen‘s comedy always excels. From Gene Wilder‘s lost-in-the-moment over-the-top acting along side a sheep in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) to Mira Sorvino‘s Oscar winning Minnie Mouse/Miss Piggy knowing naivety in Mighty Aphrodite, Allen has always managed to allow the actors’ natural sense of comedy and comic timing to come before his script.
But that’s not to belittle his writing. Without a doubt, Allen has written some of the finest one liners in American movie history and Annie Hall contains some of his best.
That sex was the most fun I’ve ever had without laughing.
Hey, don’t knock masturbation! It’s sex with someone I love.
I remember the staff at our public school. You know, we had a saying, uh, that those who can’t do teach, and those who can’t teach, teach gym. And, uh, those who couldn’t do anything, I think, were assigned to our school.
Lyndon Johnson is a politician, you know the ethics those guys have. It’s like a notch underneath child molester.
Oh my God, she’s right. Why did I turn off Allison Portchnik? She was beautiful, she was willing. She was real intelligent. Is it the old Groucho Marx joke that I’m – I just don’t want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member?
Those lines are delivered with an understated wit by Allen himself in the obviously self-autobiographical role of Alvy Singer. Something that Allen learned much later was to let go of some of the best lines, to give them to the other actors. In Annie Hall he clearly has the best script and one feels he only named the movie Annie Hall because “Me Me Me Me Me Me Me” would have seemed too self involved. I say this half jokingly because when he did release the reigns (particularly in recent years) the results have been middling to say the least. Jason Biggs could not pull off the quintessential Allen-esque character in Anything Else and the dire Melinda and Melinda was plunged into the further depths of the bargain basement by an awful performance from Will Ferrell.
With the rare exception of Match Point (a very non-Woody-Allen Woody Allen movie) his movies and his scripts work best in his own very capable hands and when he is surrounded by actors which he trusts implicitly. Alan Alda, Mia Farrow, Sydney Pollack, Angelica Huston and, of course, Diane Keaton ‘fit’ in Allen‘s movies and this is most evident in the classic Annie Hall.
Keaton is wonderful in the title role and shockingly beautiful. Though told from Alvy‘s point of view, the movie charts the growth of her character from a young lost hippy to a well-rounded confident woman by the end of the movie. Though not on purpose, she uses Alvy to go on a voyage of self discovery that sees her educate herself, examine her life and ultimately learn that she needs to put her own needs and feelings first. This is best seen in the ‘psychiatrist’s couch’ scene where the screen is split in two and we see Alvy with his therapist and Annie with hers (as paid for my Alvy). They each give their views on their sex life, on the therapy sessions, on their life together and while hilarious it is also a pivotal dramatic moment in the movie.
Annie Hall is a classic in the truest sense of the Hollywood term. It was the beginning of a brand new genre – the Allen-esque relationship comedy. Though it is a style often repeated (most noticeably by Allen himself) it has never been so perfectly done as in Annie Hall.
Rent this film, download this film, buy this film. It really doesn’t matter how you get it, just make sure you see this movie. You will laugh and you will be very impressed by the wit, the beauty, the real life drama that makes Annie Hall.
The Jameson Movies in the Square continues next Saturday night with Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, but the next film I am most likely to see next is Stranger Than Fiction on the 9th of August, a modern day classic with a role-of-his-career Will Ferrell and an ever perfect Emma Thompson. For more information on the series go here or here, but if you miss the movie, I hope to review Stranger Than Fiction in a few weeks.