The 70s were
The perfect time for Woody
Allen to have lived
Did you know that Annie Hall beat out Star Wars for Best Picture at the 50th Academy Awards in 1978? I find that really interesting. Do you think that would happen if we had a re-vote? I’m curious. Anyway, onward.
Woody Allen is one weird dude in real life and Annie Hall, which is basically 93 minutes of Allen talking about himself and his feelings, has no right to be as good as it is. It speaks to the intrinsic comedic ability that Allen has. He could be insane, he’s fucked half of Hollywood, and even banged his not-legally-but-still-kind-of stepdaughter, but my God he’s a talented comedian. This movie was fucking brilliant.
I bestowed upon it the hallowed 5/5 rating because of its biting comedy, avant-garde approach, and overall enjoyability. Annie Hall also made me want to watch more Woody Allen movies. With my sense of humor (yes, I have a sense of humor, no matter what you say), I’m surprised I haven’t watched more of his work. You can be sure I’ll be tuning in now.
Woody Allen has jokes
Another interesting fact: “Woody” is short for Heywood. Heywood Allen. What a fantastic name!
If you knew nothing about Allen prior to watching Annie Hall, you’d get the general gist of his persona after just a few minutes. He’s irreverent, clever, sarcastic, a bit wild, and very, very Jewish. He’s the type of person you like watching on screen but would abhor hanging out with. At least, that’s my impression. I know nothing about Woody Allen the person, but Woody Allen the on-screen character seems a bit too…realistic. I think you could replace “Alvy Singer” (the main character) with “Woody Allen” and literally everything would be exactly the same – which is probably the point. My suspicions were confirmed when I read that Allen had a 37-year stint with a psychoanalyst, which is something that is poked at throughout the movie.
The reason Allen is so likable on screen? He’s funny as hell. Again, I lazed around and didn’t take good notes for this movie, but you’ll have to take my word for it: there are some seriously clever lines in this movie. And not just clever in a funny way – clever in a thought-provoking way that happens to make you laugh. It’s smart humor. Take this piece of dialogue, for example:
I feel that life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. That’s the two categories. The horrible are like, I don’t know, terminal cases, you know, and blind people, crippled. I don’t know how they get through life. It’s amazing to me. And the miserable is everyone else. So you should be thankful that you’re miserable, because that’s very lucky, to be miserable.
Read through that and tell me it isn’t both funny and heartbreaking. Comedians are more than just jokes. That’s why everyone loved George Carlin. He was funny as hell, but he also brought up important issues constantly. In this particular quote, Allen doesn’t specify any broad issues, but he does touch on life itself. We all struggle. We’re all miserable. We might as well find a way to enjoy it. There are so many more of these layered bouts of monologue:
On relationships: “A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”
On breakups: “Oh my God, she’s right. Why did I turn off Allison Portchnik? She was beautiful, she was willing. She was real intelligent. Is it the old Groucho Marx joke that I’m – I just don’t want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member?”
On…well, everything: “Sun is bad for you. Everything our parents said was good is bad. Sun, milk, red meat… college.”
Tricks of the trade
Yesterday, I referred to High Fidelity‘s narration tactic as “that House of Cards talk-to-the-viewer thing.” Readers called me out on this. It’s breaking the fourth wall, obviously, something I KNOW, but just didn’t recall at that moment. Anyway, I’m clearing that up. I know what breaking the fourth wall is.
In that vein, Annie Hall breaks the fourth wall multiple times, and in really interesting ways. These tricks pushed this movie from a 4/5 to a 5/5 for their sheer brilliance. There’s one scene where Alvy is standing in line at a movie, frustrated at a man behind him espousing all kinds of bullshit about the artistic merits of Marshall McLuhan. Woody Allen steps away from the action and addresses the viewer directly, chastising this man for refusing to cease his loudmouthing. Then, the man in question steps into the picture and addresses the viewer as well, defending himself. It’s funny, and gets better when Allen ducks behind a poster and pulls out the actual Marshall McLuhan, who goes on to tell the man that he’s full of shit and doesn’t know anything about him. BRILLIANT.
There are also two or three scenes where, instead of simply talking to himself, Allen walks down the street and engages in conversation with strangers to discuss certain topics. While talking, he’s breaking the fourth wall despite interacting with characters within the film. BEAUTIFULLY EXECUTED.
In addition, there are “flashback” scenes where Allen shows the viewer direct images from his past, as if they are happening in real time. This really fucks with you when he’s with a group and they all gather to watch a short review of his abusive household. Does this even count as breaking the fourth wall? It’s kind of like breaking the fourth wall within the universe of the movie, if that makes any sense. MIND BLOWN.
This movie is amazing. Plot, characters – I haven’t even mentioned most of them, including the titular character played passionately by Diane Keaton – but we’re running short on time here. As good as Keaton and others are, this is Allen’s film through and through and my God it’s brilliant.
Cameos! Christopher Walken makes an appearance in a hilarious scene, and Jeff Goldblum, uh, finds his way onto the screen too. This made me wonder: am I going to be watching, like, Birdman again in 20 years and see some extra who is a famous actor or actress at that point in time? Weird to imagine. Also, I’ll be 43 in 20 years so let’s not think about that.
Favorite scene: It didn’t involve a joke per-se, which surprised me because this movie was full of incredible one-liners. But the best scene in this movie involves none other than Walken himself, one of my favorite actors of all time. It’s his only scene. Alvy enters Duane’s (Walken) room. Duane is Annie’s troubled brother. Duane, without any kind of warning, launches into a story about how every time he drives a car and sees oncoming headlights, he wonders what it would be like to pull into the opposite lane and kill himself in an head-on collision. Not five minutes later, Alvy finds himself driving down the highway, white-knuckled and wide-eyed in the darkness, while Duane sits behind the wheel, unsmiling. So fucking funny.
Sappiness rating: 0/10. Woody Allen has no time for sap.
This movie was really a bunch of set pieces strung together for Woody Allen to talk about how he feels about certain things. That’s how comedians operate. Put one in a directorial chair and you’ll get something like Annie Hall, though this is an example of an uncommonly good product. Man, this was fun. It deserves every bit of the 5/5 it got.
Tl;dr: This movie was flawless in nearly every way