There are certain movies that we turn to when we’re in need of comfort. For me, Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” (1977) is one of those movies – a movie that is immediately familiar, yet possesses an indefinable something that keeps me coming back to it.
Woody Allen’s films are an acquired taste, and his approach to comedy – a marriage of verbal gymnastics and deft physical humor – is mostly absent from today’s movies, thus making it difficult for a newcomer to hook into his style.
Nevertheless, anyone who professes to enjoy romantic comedies owes it to themselves to see “Annie Hall,” perhaps Allen’s best film, and by far one of the best romantic comedies ever made.
The film is essentially a dissection of the relationship between Alvy Singer (Allen), a comedian from New York City, and Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), a chatty and free spirited woman from Chippewa Falls, Wis.
As in nearly all romantic comedies, these two would seem an unlikely match, and indeed, Alvy’s penchant for sarcastic and intellectual quips, and Annie’s spontaneous and neurotic personality don’t exactly hint at a long-lasting relationship.
But there’s something fundamental that draws these two together (Loneliness? The desire for someone different? Boredom?) and keeps them together – for a while.
In its premise, “Annie Hall” differs little from any other romantic comedy, past or present. In its execution, however, Allen has created something truly unique.
The film utilizes non-chronological flashbacks, subtitled thoughts, split-screen scenes, and even a sequence in which Alvy and Annie are depicted as cartoon characters. Alvy also addresses the camera throughout the film, effectively demolishing the fourth wall and making the audience ever-conscious of the fact that they are watching a movie.
With so many cinematic tricks up his sleeve, it’s amazing that Allen’s film is not a jumbled, self-serving mess. On the contrary, these stylistic devices actually allow “Annie Hall” to create a singular portrait of a relationship.
One of my personal favorite moments in the movie is the aforementioned “subtitled thoughts” scene, where Alvy and Annie, while they are in the midst of a conversation, have their thoughts revealed through subtitles. “I wonder what she looks like naked,” Alvy thinks, as he drones on about aesthetic criteria for photography.
The central problem with some comedies is that once you’ve seen them a few times the jokes and situations begin to grow stale, and you find yourself only chuckling or smiling at scenes that used to make you wet your pants.
“Annie Hall” is not immune to this problem, but the film retains its longevity by being more than just a comedy; it’s a deeply-felt and ingenious meditation on the nature of relationships, and its poignant conclusion just seems more wise as the years go by.
Movie reviewer Jeff Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.