Often regarded as the original contemporary romantic comedy, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall has endured to be one of the most popular and critically acclaimed films from his incredibly prolific career. In spite of its canonisation as a landmark achievement of the genre, the film bears little resemblance to the conventions and tropes now associated with many romantic comedies of today.
The film is a wry and honest depiction of the romantic life of its protagonist Alvy Singer (played by Allen), and in particular, the development of his relationship with the titular character (Diane Keaton). Although filtered through Allen’s idiosyncratic sensibilities, it is a stark contrast to the shallow sentimentality that continues to dominate the ways in which romantic relationships are generally depicted in cinema.
Like much of Allen’s best work, Annie Hall manages to successfully balance his comedic and dramatic sensibilities, displaying his adeptness in handling these emotional extremes. Opening with Allen directly addressing the audience in character, the film takes us on a series of loosely connected flashbacks mostly related to Singer’s relationship with Annie Hall. The overall flow of the film is particularly striking. A comment or incident leads Singer to recall a memory from his childhood or a past relationship and on occasion, he also indulges in imaginative flights of fancy. But Annie Hall is by no means chaotic, the film retains a strong sense of narrative momentum as each of these scenes layer upon one another to create a well-rounded depiction of the relationship between the characters.
While these characters do fall into the intellectual, neurotic New Yorker archetype that populate much of Allen’s films, the genuineness of the interactions between Keaton and Allen is what gives the film its emotional core. Keaton gives a fantastic performance as the awkwardly endearing Annie, and Allen manages not to overplay his nervous self-deprecating persona. They had in fact dated earlier in the decade, and remained good friends, working together on a string of Allen projects over the years. Their camaraderie definitely carries over to the screen in Annie Hall, lending the film’s bittersweet final moments a well earned sense of pathos.
If you needed any more reasons to watch Annie Hall this Valentine’s Day: Diane Keaton’s proto-hipster wardrobe is amusing to observe 35 years on, and keep an eye out for Paul Simon, who along with Christopher Walken and Jeff Goldblum (both just beginning their film careers at the time) have cameo appearances in the film.
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