Annie Hall

Debi Lee Mandel

In his much-acclaimed romantic comedy Annie Hall, Allen sheds the clownpaint of his previous screen persona and bares himself as Manhattanite Alvy Singer who wears his psyche like a wound oozing through his sleeve. Alvy has loved and lost Annie Hall, a reticent midwestern girl who evolves through the long course of their relationship into a mature, self-confident woman. Does Alvy change? Has he ever changed? He attempts in retrospect to dissect the experience to understand it, understand Annie, and ultimately (and continuously) himself.

Woody Allen takes us inside his head as he explores, for himself, his own neuroses. But we are only bystanders—if any one of us could actually answer his question "Where did I go wrong?", he'd find a way to prove our theories wrong. It's how he is. It's how Alvy Singer is.

As any good neurotic knows, the only way to sort out our internal labyrinthine dialogue is to hear them, see them outside ourselves. What is romantically considered "the muse" is in actuality a survival mechanism that drives us to create a personal symbology in an attempt to understand ourselves: van Gogh painted his madness, Kafka drew rich and hideous metaphors to release his nightmares, and Woody steps outside of himself to hear himself think.

Allen takes us through Alvy's psycho-journey using hilarious and divergent devices. Scattered throughout his non-linear storylineare cinematic gems—surreallistic sequences in which he sets his characters in their own pasts, to revisit and review what occurred—as well as outrageous narratives and subtle cues. He constantly breaks the 4th wall, either directly (as in the opening monologue) or as a sotto voce, mid-scene. Annie and Alvy's first endearingly real conversation, out on her balcony, is ingenious: the ever precocious Allen provides us with subtitles for their thoughts while their mouths awkwardly ramble on—sheer movie magic. And I feel compelled to tease those who have not yet seen this by mentioning that this film includes the most famous sneeze ever captured on the silver screen.

I don't believe there had ever been anything quite like it when Annie Hall first hit the screen. The natural, conversational dialogue flows so flawlessly we don't recognize it as "enhanced"—in some instances as they talk over and around each other, it is difficult to imagine these lines were actually scripted. And although we walk away with a hundred new punchlines in our heads, we realize they are NOT one-liners but masterfully crafted crescendos, dependent upon the previous three minutes or so of dialogue. Brilliant.

Both Keaton and Allen developed unique screen personalities in this film that have been copied and re-rendered by countless actors in soon-forgotten movies since. There was even the craze of the "Annie Hall" style that followed for several years, which I remember as a refreshing counterbalance to the disco polyester of Saturday Night Fever (premiering the same year). But these two were so fresh and original and un-selfconscious that it is a phenomenon that we can only revisit by viewing Annie Hall again and again. Now that I own it, I will and will.

Annie Hall won 4 out of the 5 Academy Awards® for which it was nominated, and was recently voted #4 in the American Film Institute's top 100 comedies. I personally believe that if Allen hadn't "diluted" it with later films like Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters, it might have been even higher on that list. Diane Keaton is delightfully natural and peculiar; Allen has never been more charming or sincere. And the real star, their fragile relationship, is so intricate, honest and familiar we might almost wince at the levity by which it is portrayed. Who else but Woody could pull this off without tear-jerking sentimentality? It is only through Keaton's songs that we recognize his bittersweet regret, and through the flashbacks at the end we understand that we, like Alvy, like Woody, just needed to see it all one more time before letting go.

This is an American tour-de-force that earns all of the accolades it has received over time in every line, every humorous tickle to sidesplitting laugh.... Woody knew he was on to something and has continued to explore this venue ever since. There are those who miss his old gags, and astonishingly there are those who do understand him and dismiss him— the all-too-common sign of a great auteur.

Did I mention that Paul Simon and Jeff Goldblum cut their teeth on this set? Or that small parts and cameos are graced by Carol Kane, Colleen Dewhurst, Shelley Duvall, and the zero-to-60mph joke delivered impeccably by Christopher Walken?

I just can't say enough about this film.

If you only own one Woody Allen movie, this should be it, as it is the crystallization of the essence of what is best about a "Woody Allen" film.Annie Hall is a perfect love story, a perfect comedy, a perfectly hilarious introspection, AND we come away with too much information to sort out our own lives—ever again. "O, well, la-de-da, la-de-da...."

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