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Annie Hall (1977)

by on 2011/02/13

“Life is divided into the horrible and the miserable.”

* * * * *

Annie Hall is hands down my all-time favourite movie. I watched it first at a very formative age, and every last bit of it crawled in under my skin and became a part of me. With each subsequent viewing, the biochemical changes deepen.

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that everything I know about being a lady person was informed by Annie Hall. This film is why I tend to tell rambly stories that start in the middle and go nowhere. Or Annie Hall made me feel good about this inherent tendency of mine. It is really hard to say.

A study of relationships and life itself, Annie Hall takes its audience through the genesis, growth and eventual death of a relationship between Alvy Singer (Woody Allen), a depressive comedian and Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), flaky, charming, sometime nightclub singer.

Married several times, Alvy has an uneasy relationship with relationships. Once he finds himself in one, he wants out. “I think it appears originally in Freud’s ‘Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious,’ and it goes like this – I’m paraphrasing – um, ‘I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.’ That’s the key joke of my adult life, in terms of my relationships with women.”

There are ways that I feel like the film’s hero Alvy, the neurotic, obsessive pessimist. He’s obsessed with death and suffering. He enjoys wading around in the darkest possible subjects. He’s convinced of the meaninglessness of life. He both wants love and wants to run far, far away from love.

The ways in which I am like Annie are as follows:

  • We both grew up around or close to cows. Annie was born in Chippewa Falls, WI. I grew up in darkest Northern Alberta on a ranch.
  • We tell meandering rural gothic stories about sudden death or dismemberment that are hilarious and sensical to us and only us. The non-rural audience finds them horrifying. In fact, I can silence an entire room. Annie silenced Alvy with her story of the shell-shocked, narcoleptic Army vet dying while waiting for his free Thanksgiving turkey. I have hundreds of stories just like that one.
  • We both have a history of purchasing black soap.
  • Like Annie, I tend to be a tad swervy as a driver, and overall, I am rather heavy-footed (both braking and accelerating). You know, so passengers have told me or perhaps more accurately, screamed in alarm at me.
  • I frequently use the word ‘neat’ as well. And if really pushed, ‘neato.’ Annie is criticized by Alvy for consistently using these “Chippewa Falls expressions.”
  • Intelligent, complex, prickly men both terrify and fascinate me. Annie is drawn to Alvy like a little impulsive moth to the peevish flame.
  • I also tend to spill food and drink on people while entertaining. Witness Annie’s first full-blown …er, conversation with Alvy when she pours day-old, uncorked white wine on his hand.
  • I love hats. Ankle-length skirts. And ties.
  • I can be intermittently charming and consistently infuriating.
  • I’m soft on lateness.

This movie is everything I love about Woody Allen and more. It is one of his most accomplished works, making use of childhood flashbacks, animated and fantasy sequences (“I happen to have Mr. McLuhan right here”), and breaking through the fourth wall to address the audience. Annie Hall is distilled and bottled pure charm. It is a funny, true and brilliant work of art.

There are moments in Annie Hall I think about often. One is the classic scene in Annie’s brother Duane’s room, where Duane (Christopher Walken) confesses to Alvy that he’s drawn to the idea of driving his car into oncoming traffic. Walken says with Dead Zone intensity: “I can anticipate the explosion. The sound of shattering glass. The flames rising out of the flowing gasoline.”

To which Alvy replies: “Right. Well, I have to – I have to go now, Duane, because I, I’m due back on the planet Earth.” And then Duane drives Alvy and Annie to the airport.

More than laughs, there is great, ageless wisdom in this movie. There is more wisdom in Annie Hall than I have found in the shopping carts full of relationship and self-help books I have read over the years.

The wisdom of the ages is particularly present in the film’s final lines: 

“I thought of that old joke, you know, the, this, this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, ‘Doc, uh, my brother’s crazy, he thinks he’s a chicken,’ and uh, the doctor says, ‘Well why don’t you turn him in?’ And the guy says, ‘I would, but I need the eggs.’ Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships. You know, they’re totally irrational and crazy and absurd and – but uh, I guess we keep going through it because most of us need the eggs.”

Happy Valentine’s Day Annie and Alvy.

* * * * *

93 minutes

PG for some language, VPLs (visible panty lines) and the discussion of a large vibrating egg

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