Annie Hall: This Is 40

A NERVOUS ROMANCE. 

anniehallIn the film’s first scene, Woody Allen as Alvy Singer addresses his audience, letting us know that he recently turned 40 and that this landmark event has brought on a life crisis. It wasn’t really planned, but I happened to watch this movie for the first time in many years at exactly the same moment in my life, a few days after my 40th birthday. There’s something about turning a corner like that. It makes you think about your life up until now and what lies ahead. In Allen’s case, he felt like something had to change in his filmmaking career. Maybe there’s more to it than simply making playful comedies?

New York City comedy writer Alvy Singer ponders his relationship with Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), which ended a year earlier. He had two unhappy marriages behind him when he first met Annie, but it didn’t take long for them to hit it off. They had wine on Annie’s balcony and Alvy joined her as she auditioned as a singer at a night club. When they started sharing a bed, Alvy’s neurotic issues became more evident and her willingness to move in with him after some time was not something he took lightly. Alvy keeps wondering what kind of relationship is he really looking for…

Sacrificing laughs
In the mid-70s, Allen was very successful as a writer and director of comedies. Marshall Brickman, who had co-written Sleeper (1973) with Allen, knew that his partner had serious thoughts about life and death, culture and philosophy, and that he wanted to make a movie that addressed those issues more clearly. Allen was prepared to, in his own words, “sacrifice some of the laughs for a story about human beings”. He had always put himself on display in his comedies, but this one would be much more personal, exploring a relationship in an artistic way that explicitly tried to engage the audience. As we follow the challenges of the romance between Alvy and Annie, Allen frequently breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience, more or less asking for their understanding or perhaps begging for advice. Some sequences are journeys back to Alvin’s childhood, introducing us to his overbearing parents. That’s where the psychoanalysis comes in, as Allen tries to find reasons for his own behavior and thinking. His usual playfulness is at work throughout, evident in the abundance of funny lines and moments like an animated scene where Allen puts himself in a version of “Snow White”. Many scenes are laugh-out-loud funny, such as the one where he tries cocaine for the first time. The way he contrasts New York City and Los Angeles in the film’s last half-hour is hilarious. The same can be said about Alvy’s obsession about how gentiles perceive Jews, which leads to moments that are not only funny but also say something about how anti-Semitism always survives. The laughs are tempered with another achievement by Allen – the film is genuinely romantic at times, as Alvy and Annie spend time getting to know each other with the Big Apple as a gorgeous backdrop. This was the first time that Allen worked with cinematographer Gordon Willis, “the prince of darkness”, and he lends the film a delicate sense of realism and earnestness that helped the director find his new voice. 

This is indeed the perfect Woody Allen film, his best. What especially makes me cherish it is the bittersweet way the movie captures love, memories – and the effect that ever present doubt has on our relationships. After making two comedies together, former lovers Allen and Keaton are perfectly cast here, as they work their personal traits, quirks and history into their characters, making us fall in love with them; Keaton became such a hit even that her onscreen wardrobe turned her into a fashion icon.

Annie Hall 1977-U.S. 94 min. Color. Produced by Charles H. Joffe. Directed by Woody Allen. Screenplay: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman. Cinematography: Gordon Willis. Editing: Ralph Rosenblum, Wendy Greene Bricmont. Cast: Woody Allen (Alvy Singer), Diane Keaton (Annie Hall), Tony Roberts (Rob), Paul Simon, Shelley Duvall, Carol Kane… Christopher Walken, John Glover, Jeff Goldblum, Beverly D’Angelo, Sigourney Weaver.

Trivia: Weaver’s first film.

Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Actress (Keaton), Original Screenplay. Golden Globe: Best Actress (Keaton). BAFTA: Best Film, Direction, Actress (Keaton), Screenplay, Editing.

Quote: “Don’t knock masturbation. It’s sex with someone I love.” (Allen)

Last word: “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, and you were supposed to see a stream of consciousness that was mine, and I did the film and it was completely incoherent. 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. That was one small part of another big canvas that I had. 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, as I was with other films of mine that were very popular.” (Allen, Cinema Blend)

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