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New York comedian Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) looks back over his relationship with aspiring actress and torch singer Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) trying to understand what went wrong. Apart from their neuroses the two have little in common: Alvy grumbles incessantly and is paranoid about being Jewish, while Annie comes from a wealthy Anglo-Saxon family and despite her insecurities takes a more carefree approach to life.

Review by Jake Wilson:
When I brought home a copy of Annie Hall to watch with my family, my mother marveled that the cover said 'Nostalgia' while my youngest brother could only think of Woody Allen as the guy who dated his step-daughter. So reputations fade. But while Allen may now be hardly more than a rumour to the general public, his best jokes remain so familiar it's hard to believe anyone ever made them up, much less as recently as the 1970s. Hard to believe, too, in the onetime popularity of the Allen persona, a horny, depressive nerd with a yen for high culture: stick this guy in 2005 and he'd look as marginal as the Steve Buscemi character in Ghost World.

Still, you have to hand it to the little bastard - his multiple Oscar-winner from 1977 remains funny and charming enough to be called a minor classic, though it's less a narrative than a series of sketches on the theme of relationships. Whether he's mocking pretentious New Yorkers or LA airheads, Allen's orderly mind and showbiz instincts limit his awareness of people as individuals - he's better with vignettes than character development, and better with one-liners than either. Any reality Alvy and Annie possess beyond their respective identities as "neurotic Jew" and "insecure WASP girl" owes less to the script than to Diane Keaton's knack for warm uncertainties - her vocal and facial fluctuations let us share her emotions, while Allen's whiny schtick holds us at a constant distance.

Beyond his verbal wit what Allen mainly had going for him at this period was chutzpah - taking for granted that despite his lack of screen presence, audiences would accept him as their representative in a "universal" story about lovers struggling to communicate. Indeed, the film presumes that we'll not only see ourselves in Woody, but share his mental universe, with half the jokes dependent on knowing references to literature, psychoanalysis, history, or classic and arthouse films. Implausibly, even the vapid Angelenos have been watching Jean Renoir's Grand Illusion in their Hollywood mansions ("That's a great movie when you're high").

Of course, Annie Hall itself is one of Allen's most successful blends of Hollywood romantic comedy and "art cinema," with its lengthy master shots that parody documentary (as when Alvy polls passers-by on their sex lives) and asides to camera that derive equally from Jean-Luc Godard and Groucho Marx. Whatever its limitations, in this and other things the film is a shining reminder of an era when mainstream US culture was a great deal more liberal and sophisticated than it is now. Or as Alvy famously says, in the scene where he produces cultural theorist Marshall McLuhan out of nowhere to silence a bore in a movie queue: "Boy, if only life were like this."

Published February 17, 2005

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(US, 1977)

CAST: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, Paul Simon

PRODUCER: Charles H. Joffe, Jack Rollins

DIRECTOR: Woody Allen

SCRIPT: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman


EDITOR: Wendy Greene Bricmont, Ralph Rosenblum

MUSIC: Not credited

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Art direction: Mel Bourne

RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes




DVD RELEASE: February, 2005

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