By: Andrew Palmacci
Annie Hall – dir. Woody Allen – 1977 – Original Theatrical Trailer
Annie Hall, the quintessential romantic comedy, begins and ends with a total of three jokes that Woody Allen’s character recounts to the audience—the first two at the beginning of the film with Allen speaking directly to the camera, the last as narration over scenes of his Alvie hanging out with love interest par excellence (in this movie as well as in movies themselves) Annie Hall. The first two jokes concern, respectively, a love-hate relationship with life and a paradoxical approach to relationships, with the concluding one coming back to an ambivalent perspective on romantic relations. In between these humorous bookends, Allen manages to pull out a remarkable number of (mostly humorous, always endearing) stops to build the archetypal modern romantic comedy.
As for setting the cinematic stage for romantic comedies of the 80s,90s and beyond, Annie Hall (the first of Allen’s big romances, coming just after 1975’s Love and Death) makes use of a number of comedic tools to enhance the story and show off Allen’s unique motion picture voice. Some of these tools include the opening monologue of the film in which a solitary Allen reels off the two jokes and a preamble on his current personal life and his romance with Annie, stepping into a flashback of his school days and talking with his fellow classmates as well as his teacher. He also views scenes of his growing up next to a roller coaster in Brooklyn with Annie and best friend when they decide to show Annie the old neighborhood a bit into their relationship. There’s also subtext-subtitles displayed during the first real conversation Alvie and Annie have over drinks on Annie’s apartment terrace. There’s similar “stepping back into the past” moments when Annie and Alvie walk through scenes where Annie is spending time with past boyfriends as well as glimpses (prompted by Annie’s comments) into Allen’s filmic alter ego’s past relationships. There’s also times when Allen again directs comments directly to the camera, as when Alvie and Diane Keaton’s Annie are in line at the movies and he feels like letting off some steam about a pseudo-intellectual film-goer ranting behind him about cinema. After Alvie says his piece, the fellow line-waiter retorts and Allen’s character resorts to pulling the filmmaker ranted about from behind a movie cardboard cut-out in the lobby to personally rebuke the film aficionado. In addition, at one point, passersby on a Manhattan street are consulted by Alvie to take a straw poll about relationships. And, though not quite a movie trick, just before that movie lobby scene, Alvie is waiting for Annie at the first movie theatre that they eventually decide to leave; while waiting, he is cornered by a kind of tough guy who is sure he knows him from some T.V. show or movie, a situation that ends in Alvie’s admitting his writer status. The interesting part, however, is when Alvie is finally joined by Annie and he says he’s almost been accosted by the cast of the Godfather. One might then be inclined to think this is a wink by Allen at co-star Keaton’s turn in that trilogy’s first two installments (released in 1972 and ’74).
Another unique element to this film is the chronology by which it is related. Starting off with the monologue, Alvie tells of his break-up with Annie, the final one which happens towards the end of the movie, when Annie moves to Los Angeles to work with Jimmy Lacey (a not-far-from-real-life, entertainment biz-skewering Paul Simon). But throughout the main part of Annie Hall there’s a (tasteful) number of flashbacks and a (somewhat) disordered portrait of Alvie and Annie’s relationship—though the viewer is always made to feel like they are watching things unfold quite rightly and with a good deal of romantic comedic suspense.
All in all, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall presents a warm-hearted look at relationships in an (up till its release) unorthodox way, creating a benchmark for future cinematic tales of romance. Annie Hall is the love of Alvie Singer’s life; Annie Hall is the love of the ours and the genre.