Annie Hall (1977) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG for language, sexuality and drug use (I'd rate it R)
Running Time: 109 min.
Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, Paul Simon, Shelley Duvall, Janet Margolin, Christopher Walken
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman
Review published July 15, 2004
A romantic comedy like no other before it, Annie Hall proves to be a tour-de-force and landmark film for Woody Allen (Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanors) as a writer, director and star. It's the film that showed Allen, and the world, that he was more than a comedian or a funny writer. He was a great and unique filmmaker, capable of mixing several different styles, moods, and genres, and making them all work to their fullest extent. Allen didn't study comedy to achieve this -- he studied film, and applied his comedic skills to create a dizzying array of characters who travel in and out of the moment, scenes that shift forward and back in time in the blink of an eye, and complex storytelling that works on a comedic, dramatic, and emotional level all at the same time. In short, it's a brilliant work of filmmaking, and yes, damn funny at the same time.
Woody Allen plays Alvy Singer, who disjointedly recounts the relationships he's had over the last several years, and most notably with Annie Hall (Keaton, Something's Gotta Give), the struggling singer. Through a series of flashback vignettes and fourth-wall shattering asides, Singer ties in his anxieties in relationships with other neuroses for a state-of-mind type of storytelling, where reality and fantasy mix in mostly comedic fashion.
Obviously, this is the film that ultimately put Allen on the map of great filmmakers of the 70s, and the one which won him the most accolades, including three Oscars -- Keaton as Best Actress, Allen as Best Director, and the film itself as Best Picture (besting the mega-blockbuster, Star Wars). It has been imitated so many times in comedies, it's a chore to remember that Annie Hall's complex narrative structure was a breakthrough style at the time, and one in which Allen himself would borrow from in subsequent films to good success. It's a comedy of reflective self-examination, jammed with literary allusions, psychoanalysis, intellectual musings, familial influences, and lots of humor. Everything you'd expect to float around in the mind of Allen is projected into the story in clever fashion, and with fantastic results.
Like reliving anyone's remembrances, there isn't a plot as much as a plethora of capsulated brain droppings, but Allen never seems to miss in any of them. Annie Hall is not just for Allen's fans (although it does help to like him), but all who love romantic comedies, influential comedies, and the finest films of the Seventies. This isn't just the work of a funny writer or hilarious comedian. It's the maturation of an auteur in cinema, and just like the finest of films that Allen would obsessively attend in his years growing up in Manhattan, his own ranks right up with them.
©2004 Vince Leo