Annie Hall

by Damian Cannon

A wonderful, semi-autobiographical take on modern-day relationships, the price of fame and why New York will always be better than Los Angeles. Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) is a neurotic, insecure, difficult comedian (as usual) who works for TV in Manhattan. Having just split up with his long-term lover Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), Alvy takes us back through their time together with brief stops at his childhood and failed marriages. Brought up in Brooklyn, in the shadow of a giant roller-coaster, Alvy was always a little different from his classmates. Even at the tender age of six he was lusting after girls (explored in a great children-acting-as-adults scene) and worrying about the fate of the Universe. In parallel with his rise as a comedian, Alvy gained and lost two (unsuitable) wives. However, the first meeting between Annie and Alvy is a moment to treasure for ever. Annie manages to take Alvy back to her apartment (in a death-defying car journey) where they talk the intellectual, philosophical conversation of adults. However, their real thoughts are shown as subtitles - a terrifically earthy contrast.

At first Alvy is the confident and worldly one while Annie is unfocused, nervous and clingy. She has undeveloped dreams of becoming a singer, which Alvy encourages her to fulfil, while he has become jaded with the constraints of fame. Autograph hunters and excited fans are simply obstacles to be avoided, rather than recognition of his talent. Annie attends a few literary college courses and begins seeing a therapist. The problem is that Annie makes more progress in one session than Alvy has made in 15 years! Eventually they move in together, much to the displeasure of Annie's family. A real suburbanite conformist bunch, all they do is examine their navels and talk about bring-and-buy sales. Such a contrast from Alvy's noisy, demonstrative and altogether more human folks. This additional closeness causes problems though, particularly when Annie has a fling with one of her college professors - not what Alvy had in mind when he suggested education to broaden her mind.

As their relationship deepens, a critical flaw emerges - Annie is changing and maturing while Alvy seems to be running on the spot. Therapy has shown Annie that she needs to cater for her own needs, which is why she jumps at the chance when Tony Lacey (Paul Simon), a music mogul, offers a recording contract. This means moving to California but Annie's ready for the change of pace and an excuse to split up with Alvy. He kids himself that this is a mutual decision but, eventually, the longing becomes too great and Alvy travels to his nemesis - LA. This smog-ridden, soft-living town fundamentally rubs against his chosen lifestyle (anywhere that serves alfalfa and grated yeast must have a problem) but he'll do anything to get Annie back.

Love stories are rarely this honest, amusing, uplifting/depressing and easy to identify with. It's a testament to Woody Allen's skills as a writer, director and actor that Annie Hall is such a witty and penetrating film on the topics which are close to Allen's heart (romance, New York and death). Diane Keaton is equally convincing as a mixed-up young lady, making the transition to success and stability convincingly. Technically there are some great moments which seamlessly integrate with the movie, such as when the adult Alvy and Annie move, like ghosts, through their past. Occasionally Alvy speaks directly to the camera, mostly to poke fun at his situation by taking a step away from it. Annie Hall is not a pure comedy, which works to its advantage, but a human drama with plenty of comical moments and a wealth of real emotion. Fragile, beautiful and painfully funny.

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