Annie Hall at 40: Romantic Comedy Royalty

“Love is too weak a word for what I feel – I luuurve you, you know, I loave you, I luff you, two F’s, yes I have to invent, of course, I – I do, don’t you think I do?” – Alvy Singer

Woody Allen is a character. The neurotic, nervous, either pretentious or insightful (depending on who you ask) nihilist remains a fixture in Woody Allen (the director)’s expansive work whether they be played by Allen himself or one of his actor surrogates that over the years has included the likes of Jason Biggs, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Wilson. Through its many incarnations though there is perhaps no greater representation of the Woody Allen character than Alvy Singer from Annie Hall who first premiered on cinema screens on this day forty years ago.

Nominated for 5 Academy Awards and winning four (including Best Picture),  Annie Hall stars Allen as Alvy Singer and Diane Keaton as the titular character, their relationship becoming the vehicle for which Allen is able to make some keen observations on human nature, dating and the highs and lows of falling in love. While his later films would continue to touch on these subjects, Annie Hall remains Allen’s most celebrated work for its ability to blend the comedic side of Allen (for which he was primarily famous for prior to Hall) with the philosopher / intellectual side of Allen in a way that emotionally resonates to this day.

As the years have gone by, Allen has shifted more towards the philosopher side with each passing film (hitting its peak with Irrational Man in 2015) as the comedic elements appear in smaller infrequent doses. For all of Woody Allen’s characters are projections of himself taking pieces of the real-life personality behind the camera but Alvy Singer might be the best representation of the comedic and philosophical duality of Woody Allen balanced in near perfect harmony. 

This balance allows Annie Hall to be arguably Allen’s most personal and honest work. A rare feat for a film is to find greatness without much action or conflict but Annie Hall achieves this thanks to Allen’s stellar dialogue and unique usage of split screens, fourth wall breaking and even medium shifts to keep the pace smooth and the content from getting stale. At its core, Annie Hall is simply just a movie about the progression of a relationship but it has endured because many of Allen’s observations on relationships in 1977 still hold true today.

As an audience we gravitate to Alvy’s character even though we may not share his nervous nature, we relate to that feeling of nervousness in-between asking “Do you want to go out with me?” in that brief moment of silence before we get a response or for more modern readers waiting as that typing bubble shows up and we are anticipating a response. We resonate with the feeling of not just loving someone but “luurving” someone. Even today 40 years after Annie Hall’s release, we are actively trying to read through subtext and decipher hidden meanings in communication as Allen so brilliantly highlighted in the subtitles scene. Annie Hall has a lasting legacy thanks to scenes like these and because as it so wonderfully demonstrates, relationships have been largely the same whether it’s 2017,1977 or the beginning of time. We are all just trying to make it work the best we can and hoping that timing, luck and all the other external factors are on our side.

I thought of that old joke, y’know, the, this… this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, “Doc, uh, my brother’s crazy; he thinks he’s a chicken.” And, uh, the doctor says, “Well, why don’t you turn him in?” The guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.” Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y’know, they’re totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and… but, uh, I guess we keep goin’ through it because, uh, most of us… need the eggs.

It could be argued that the way Alvy views his relationship with Annie is too sentimental but I would argue this is just another instance of Allen reflecting real life. In the moment we rarely grasp what we have, it is not until we look back and examine the paths that we have chosen that we see instances that were glossed over in the moment. Through the deconstruction of the past, we learn from our mistakes but also romanticize the positives. It is here we place emphasis on the mundane things like, in the case of Alvy and Annie, the cooking of lobsters because it is these tiny seemingly insignificant details that make each relationship unique from the rest.

It is a testament to Allen’s ability as a filmmaker that he is able to make these instances in someone else’s story engaging for a wide audience but maybe it is through the usage of these moments that the viewer is able to step back on their own relationships. By viewing the relationship as an omnipresent narrator Allen becomes his own worst enemy because he is smart enough to know the pitfalls of being in love, that in many instances it will probably not work out but simply can’t avoid it because as he so expertly puts it..we need the eggs.

Thirteen years after Annie Hall’s release, When Harry Met Sally would come out giving birth to the modern romantic comedy but so much of that movie and the many that have followed since owe its existence to Annie Hall for setting the blueprint. A multitude of circumstances stop real life from being perfect but that doesn’t mean we can’t make it can’t be perfect in art which is certainly what Annie Hall is. The perfect romantic comedy.