Well, I finally saw Annie Hall. It’s one of those movies I’d always meant to see, and I did it. It was pretty good too.
It’s a romantic comedy about a neurotic comedian named Alvy (Woody Allen) dating a singer named Annie (Diane Keaton). They meet playing tennis one day, and Annie is very affectionate towards Alvy. They quickly start dating, and we jump forward in time to where they break up, get back together, then break up, then Alvy goes to win her back but she says no.
It’s a very funny movie, and Woody Allen often breaks the fourth wall, addressing the audience like he would in a stand up routine. Sometimes these moments aren’t even about the relationship but rather observations about life in general.
Alvy and Annie are both performers, and I think this is a way of looking at people in relationships, as performers. You perform the role of boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife even son/daughter/mother/father etc.
In many romantic comedies the man meets the woman and they end up together, but these films usually overlook what happens in most relationships. Most don’t work but instead further influence and instruct you on how to best approach the next one.
In Annie Hall we see each of Alvy’s and Annie’s previous relationships. They walk in on these memories like a museum exhibit, watching themselves as we watch them. They’re watching their own lives like a movie.
Alvy and Annie, however, are much more complex than most rom-com characters. Not only are they multi-faceted, but they can’t even figure themselves out. Alvy is very clear about this as most of the film is a running monologue between him and whoever will listen. When we finally see him performing onstage, it feels like he’s just continuing a conversation he’s been having the entire film.
Annie is self-conscious, and she stumbles a little when first meeting Alvy. She drives recklessly, she needs to smoke weed before making love, and she doesn’t trust that she’s a good singer. They make for an unusual couple, Alvy and Annie.
Alvy is so hyper aware of his own neuroses and at the same time he has trouble overcoming them. He introduces us to his childhood and essentially traces everything back to his family and upbringing. He often references his culture and parents in one-line jokes that shed light on why he is the way he is: “My grammy never gave gifts. She was too busy getting raped by Cossacks.”
So Alvy is a bit of a pessimist, and yet he falls for Annie and ends up chasing her across the country to Los Angeles like one might do in a movie.
Everything throughout this film tells us that this is about real life. It’s not a damn movie.
Alvy, frustrated by a loud man in line behind him, rants about him to the camera. When the man joins in to defend himself and his knowledge of Marshall McLuhan, Alvy pulls McLuhan out from just off camera and has McLuhan himself prove the loud man wrong. Alvy turns to the camera and says “if only real life were this easy.”
He’s taking advantage of art to make life easier, retroactively. Similar to Alvy and Annie walking in on old memories and commenting on their past mistakes, Woody Allen is doing the same thing with this movie.
In the end, Alvy goes to meet Annie in Los Angeles after their breakup only to have her reject his marriage offer. He then crashes into three cars in the parking lot and is arrested in a comical scene to further emphasize his failure.
Alvy then writes and rehearses a play in which we see his and Annie’s final conversation acted out by two other people. In his play, “Annie” embraces “Alvy” and everything works out well. Alvy shrugs and tells the audience it’s his first play, implying he knows it’s not very good or even real. He then ends by saying you’ve got to try to “get things to come out perfect in art, because it’s difficult in real life.”
Companion Viewing: Sleepwalk With Me (2012), written and directed by and starring Mike Birbiglia as a comedian struggling with a sleepwalking disorder.