Until 1977, Woody Allen films were mostly screwball comedies. Pictures like BANANAS and EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX... were episodic comedies, films that seemed more like short television sitcoms along the Monty Python vein. He finally reached his full potential with what seems to be everyone's favorite Woody picture, ANNIE HALL. It is without a doubt one of his better films and foresaw a lot of the narrative techniques and content you can see in his great films of the past decade. This is Woody playing himself, more or less, for the first time, but it is Diane Keaton as the title character who steals the show in a heartwarming performance that won her an Academy Award.
Woody plays comedian "Alvy Singer", a comedian who hates anything that is not New York and who cannot seem to function outside of it. He is constantly bickering to best friend Tony Roberts about New York being considered a target for anti-semitism. He is, for the first time in his long filmography, playing himself, a self-hating Jew who has broken relationships with women. He even talks directly to the camera describing his paranoid self in the movie's first shot. After some brief intercutting of failed marriage footage, "Alvy" meets the peculiar, but sensual "Annie Hall" from Wisconsin.
At this point in ANNIE HALL, the film goes back and forth in time revealing the peaks and valleys of this sweet romance. "Annie" is a lonely girl, plain-looking, but with a quality Woody and the audience can't quite put a finger on. She grows more and more lovable as the story of these complete opposites evolves. It is still hard to figure out what makes Annie so delightful to the eyes and the mind. She is simple and endearing, which makes her more attractive to you as you watch. It is great acting by Keaton, who is so original in her choice of wardrobe and mannerisms (especially her need to relieve tension a certain way).
The film contains Woody standards like his fear of driving, his fear of bugs, or things that move in the dark ("you have a bug the size of a Buick in there"), and his mockery of Los Angeles. The scenes in L.A. are some of the funniest I've seen in all of Allen's films especially the physical condition that besets him as soon as he gets off the plane. "Alvy", like Woody, is always writing something too.
ANNIE HALL is not my favorite Allen film. That honor goes hands down to MANHATTAN, made just 2 years later. Keaton has a major role in that flick, as an intellectual "Annie" you could say. His great films of the 90's MIGHTY APHRODITE and DECONSTRUCTING HARRY are direct descendants of ANNIE HALL because of the overlapping narrative, Woody's talking to the audience or to imaginary people, and adorable love interests.
The one thing true of this film is that it is his warmest in regard to New York relationships and that is made completely possible because of Diane Keaton. "La-di-da, La-di-da," became as familiar to the American vernacular as "Yada-Yada" has in recent years to Seinfeld fanatics. ANNIE HALL is complex in structure, yet deceptively simple and entered Woody into the big leagues of artistic filmmaking.
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