Woody on the cusp
With one of his most delightful efforts,
a great filmmaker moves from being mostly funny
to being completely brilliant - and still very, very funny
Reviewed by John Orr
(Click on the image to see a larger version and credits.)
"Annie Hall" is one of the great films.
I saw it two or three times in the theater in 1977, and it was one of the first tapes I bought when I got a VHS player 15 years ago.
I have watched it many times.
And now -- seeing it for the first time in a couple-three years, and in the pristine beauty of a DVD -- I find I appreciate it even more.
It was the sea-change film for Woody Allen, who won Academy Awards as director and screenwriter (with Marshall Brickman) and who was nominated for a best actor Oscar.
It is a funny film, like his previous films such as "Take the Money and Run" and "Bananas," but it is also a serious look at relationships and the first indication of Allen's bravura strengths as a filmmaker, and willingness to be inventive in order to tell his story.
The lesson of Annie Hall can be reduced to "You have to like yourself in order to let other people like you." Or, as Allen says in the film, quoting Groucho Marx and Sigmund Freud (he thinks), "I'd never belong to a club that would have someone like me as a member."
But Allen tells the story with so much cleverness, wit and fall-down funny comedy that you can just enjoy the film without worrying about consciously taking meaning from it.
Among his bag of tricks are split screens, animated characters, direct-to-camera narration, subtitles to show what people are really thinking, and having strangers on the street stop to discuss the situation to-date as if they were aware of all.
(Allen would go on to try all sorts of other film tricks in his career, ranging from giant Jewish mothers towering over Manhattan to shooting all or part of a film out of focus to using a Greek chorus to singing and dancing in a musical. The guy digs film and loves to play with it.)
Meanwhile, "Annie Hall" works its classic magic on many levels, whether you are aware of it or not.
(Yes, yes, Allen's own career developed the same way. What does it matter? This is still a movie, OK?)
When we first meet him he's already a star, and among his seemingly neurotic concerns is worrying about anti-Semitism.
And then he meets Annie Hall, charmingly played by Diane Keaton, who won a Best Actress Oscar for the role.
Annie Hall is as white bread as people come. In fact, in an New York deli she orders a pastrami on white bread with mayonnaise, which would be like ordering a taco with mayonnaise in an East L.A. taqueria.
But she is sweet, charming, cute, funny, sexy and dresses wonderfully.
(In fact, the Annie Hall look dominated fashion for many years after this film; one friend of mine didn't abandon the look until the early '90s.)
And, Annie Hall obviously likes Alvy Singer, regardless of how he feels about himself.
Annie Hall's dialogue is among the most memorable facets of this jewel of a film. for instance (you will have to imagine how Keaton stretched out the syllables):
Alvy: I think you're pretty lucky I came along
Annie: Oh, really? Well, la di da, laa di da
As the story of Annie and Alvy's love advances, we are shown flashbacks of his previous relationships, which he is mentally reviewing in an effort to understand why he continues to fail at love. Carol Kane and Janet Margolin are on hand as Alvy's first and second wives.
There is a telling split-screen segment wherein we see how Alvy's family celebrates the holidays, with dialogue between Dewhurst and Alvy's parents from screen to screen. Alvy is deeply conscious of being a New York Jew in WASP land.
And -- in a scene too wonderful to give away here -- Christopher Walken is as weird as he has ever been, as Annie's brother Duane. Worth the price of admission all by itself.
Along the way of watching "Annie Hall" you get to see some hilarious stuff, and get to try to figure out what, if anything, Alvy Singer learned from failing at love with Annie Hall. He does learn a lot, although the film doesn't really beat you over the head with his revelations, which are delivered in deceptively subtle ways.
Probably you have already seen "Annie Hall" -- if you haven't you are culturally illiterate to a pathetic degree and must see it as soon as you possibly can -- but hopefully this serves to remind you of what a wonderful film it is, and encourages you to see it again.
And ... of course, there is wonderful dialogue to enjoy along the way.
One of my favorite scenes is split-screen, with Alvy in his therapist's office, and Annie in her therapist's office:
Alvy's shrink: How often do you sleep together?
Her shrink: Do you have sex often?
Alvy: Hardly ever! Maybe three times a week.
Annie: Constantly! I'd say three times a week.
Oh, relationships! Why do we have them? Well, like Alvy Singer says, "We need the eggs."
Theater or Video?
This is a fine film to see in a revival house anytime you get the chance, but don't wait on that; get a DVD or VHS tape for home view.
See cast, credit and other details about "Annie Hall" at Internet Movie Data Base.