You take a risk when you review a Woody Allen film, even an acknowledged, Best Picture-winning classic like 1977’s Annie Hall. Do you address the accusations that have been made about him? Do you ignore them and hope that they won’t be the Elephant in the Room, stomping through your review? Do you try to justify reviewing (or, in some cases, even watching) Allen’s film? Or do you just let the work speak for itself?
I love Annie Hall. Quite frankly, I like a lot of Woody Allen’s films, even though I understand why his work is an acquired taste for quite a few other people. I’ll address the elephant in the room in a paragraph or two but you know what? I watched Annie Hall last night and I want to mention a few reasons why I enjoy this film.
First off, Annie Hall features one of Christopher Walken’s first (and best) performances. He only has a few lines but he makes quite an impression. He plays Duane, the brother of Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). When Annie’s boyfriend, Alvy Singer (Woody Allen), is visiting the Hall family, Duane invites Alvy into his bedroom and tells him that, whenever he’s driving, he fantasizes about intentionally swerving into incoming traffoc. In the very next scene, Duane is driving an oblivious Annie and a terrified Alvy to the airport. It’s a wonderfully funny moment. (If you keep your eyes open, you’ll notice that Annie’s apartment is full of pictures of Duane and his thousand yard stare.)
Secondly, this film also features an early role for Jeff Goldblum. He only has one line — “I forgot my mantra” but my God, he does amazing things with that line.
Third, when Alvy and his agent, Rob (Tony Roberts), are driving through Los Angeles, they pass a theater. According to the marquee, the theater is showing House of Exorcism, a Mario Bava film. That’s right: Italian horror in a Woody Allen film. How glorious is that?
Fourth, Annie Hall is an extremely dated film. It was made in 1977 and, as to be expected about a film directed and written by a stand up comedian, it’s full of references that were probably hilariously on target then but rather obscure now. As well, like almost all Woody Allen films, it’s a very New York film. Alvy is an intellectual, left-wing Jew who suspects that everyone he sees is an anti-Semite and who is dating an aspiring actress and singer who hails from middle America. (During the scene where Alvy meets her family, he immediately pegs Grammy Hall as a “classic Jew hater.”) The film is very much told from Alvy’s point of view, which means jokes about New York periodicals and a flashback to an Adlai Stevenson rally. That being said, I’m a Texas girl who was born long after Annie Hall was first released and I still enjoy the film because it’s a film that captures some universal truths about human relationships.
The first time I watched Annie Hall, I was 17 and I saw a lot of myself in Annie. While I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing some of her outfits, I knew what it was like to be insecure. I knew what it was like to be nervous. I know what it was like to worry about being smart enough. And, like Annie, I eventually learned that independence was the key to happiness. Annie Hall has stood the test of time because both Annie and Alvy are relatable while still remaining wonderfully unique and neurotic individuals.
(If ever a film has been a ode to the joy of being neurotic, it’s Annie Hall.)
Fifth, I love the scene where Alvy asks a random couple of the street how they make their relationship work. “I’m totally shallow and have no original thoughts,” the woman replies. “And I’m the exact same way,” her husband cheerfully adds.
Sixth, I’m going to assume that Paul Simon was primarily playing himself.
Seventh, there are just so many great scenes. Like when Alvy deals with a rude cop by ripping up his license. And then, there’s that lobster scene. And that moment when Alvy comes over to Annie’s apartment to kill a “spider the size of a buick.” (Judging by the number of times Alvy has to hit the spider with that tennis racket, I assume buick’s are pretty big.) There’s the two scenes of Annie singing, one when she’s still insecure and can’t compete with the sound of plates smashing around here and the other when she’s developed the confidence to dominate and control both the stage and the audience. There’s the scenes where Alvy breaks the fourth wall and get advise from random people on the streets of New York. And what about when Annie starts laughing while telling the horrible story of how her uncle died at the post office? Or what about when Alvy tries to avoid having sex with his first wife by discussing the JFK assassination? Or when we literally see Annie mentally check out of making love to Alvy? Or how about the split-screen therapy sessions? Or the sudden moment when Annie and Alvy become cartoon characters? Or the scene with the pretentious blowhard at the movies?
(As a Southern girl, I have to admit that it’s always strange to me to hear Alvy and Annie talking about “waiting on line” at the movies. Down here, we say “in line,” which makes a lot more sense. Since a line is just a crowd of people standing in a certain order, saying that you’re “on line,” is the same as saying your standing on someone’s head. You get in a crowd, not on them. Whenever I hear someone from up north talking about “waiting on line,” I assume they must be bidding for something on Ebay.)
I like Annie Hall and I always will. As for the accusations against Woody Allen, they don’t keep me from enjoying his better films because:
- I’ve always been a big believer that art can and should be judged separately from the artist.
- Having read what both sides have said about Woody Allen and the accusations that have been made against him, I don’t think he did it.
Obviously, some are going to disagree with me on both those points. So be it. Everyone has to make their own choice. For me, though, what’s important is that Annie Hall is a film that I’ve loved since the first time I saw it and I’ll continue to love it.