“What I wouldn’t do for a large sock filled with horse manure.” – Avi Singer (Woody Allen)
Annie Hall is the film that started it all. Not only was it the kickoff for what would become Woody Allen’s collection of biting romantic comedies with a neurotic male lead, but it also spawned TV series like Seinfeld and Sex and the City through its fourth wall-breaking monologues and witty dramatization of the everyday relationship slump.
Allen stars as Alvy Singer, a paranoid comedian who claims that any woman who’s interested in him is clearly too damaged for him to love back. That’s only exacerbated by the relationship he has with the titular Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), who starts off as his dream girl but ends up being just as neurotic as him, though in different ways. The film traces their relationship from start to finish, and in doing so personifies the nature of dating in the 1970s and, consequently, the modern era as well.
Paul Simon, Christopher Walken, Carol Kane and Shelley Duvall dot the background, but the film belongs to Keaton and Allen.The director, writer and star makes his character relatable through the misadventures he has, but somehow he also becomes an ideal. Sure, Alvy isn’t perfect (far from it), but he handles his problems with considerable humor. As much as he’s a jerk to some people and victimized by others, most of what he says is excusable because it’s funny. Not once does the audience say, “Suck it up, Alvy.” Rather, they hope life gets worse for him because it means another zinger or on-spot monologues. After all, if George Costanza in Seinfeld, a character largely based on Allen’s style of delivery, hadn’t had as many insane relationship dramas to deal with, audiences would have never gotten to enjoy some of the show’s best lines and monologues.
As much as Alvy is a nutjob, Annie isn’t much better — even their names have the same ring to them. But don’t think of Annie Hall as a manic pixie dreamgirl figure, as Keaton adds much more depth to the role. Unlike films today that focus on the downtrodden main male and his redemption through a bizarre but sexy one-dimensional female character, Annie Hall is a study in the issues that both characters bring to the plate. Annie is complicated, but not for Alvy’s sake. It’s her way of being human, not the ideal that the protagonist is doomed to lose in the end (or win by changing himself). Unfortunately, the humanity she brings to the role — for example, being able to stand up for herself and state her feelings without fear of hurting her leading man (or retaliation from the rest of the cast) — has been lost in the reincarnations of Annie by Zooey Deschanel, Kirsten Dunst and countless other actresses.
As the start to Allen’s filmmaking career, Annie Hall set a precedent for future comedies that aimed to be smart, observant and realistic. Gone are the slapstick days, and in there place is a series of damaged but humorous characters who welcome disaster as another way to share their gift of making audiences laugh. And laugh we do — la dee dah.