I have said it before, I will say it again. Woody Allen has written some of the funniest scripts in history. Annie Hall is no exception – it contains some of the best wit and examinations on the nature of relationships that pretty much every single romantic comedy since have been trying to emulate.
That being said, Woody Allen is also among the worst actors in history. His scripts are best when someone else is there to interpret them; Bullets Over Broadway, a film I would rather see again, demonstrates that. Woody Allen is only capable of playing one character; someone who is so obsessed with his own inadequacies that he can no longer capable of interacting with reality. It is always, always, somewhere between neurotic and autistic.
I still recognize Annie Hall as the comedy classic that it is. But I have enjoyed other films by Woody Allen far more.
The film is about Woody Allen…sorry, a comedian named Alvy Singer (played by Woody Allen) who is involved in an intense relationship with a woman named Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). That’s it. No – do not ask me for more. That is it. It is also nonlinear, and Alvy narrates throughout about the type of woman he tends to fall in love with and why it never works out.
The film is best when it takes a sort of meta approach to the material. Yes, I laughed long and hard when Alvy wins an argument against a professor of mass communication by producing Marshall MacLuhan from behind a poster. “You know nothing of my work” he tells the professor. I wondered what he would say to David Cronenberg about Videodrome, but never mind. There is also an ingenious scene where subtitles reveal exactly what is on the character’s minds, and even an animated film that is more or less a sex fantasy with the villain in Snow White. I admired the fact (and still admire the fact) that Allen has never insulted the intelligence of his audience. So many moments are crammed with so much information that it invites multiple viewings.
Or at least, like a play, it invites multiple performances. And that is the problem with the film. I kept thinking of many other actors who could play and properly interpret Alvy, away from Woody Allen’s own hang ups.
John Cuasck, Larry David – they have been allowed to take a Woody Allen script and turn it into gold. Even Jerry Seinfeld based a television show around, basically, trying to imitate the wit of Allen. The thing is that, for whatever reason, these actors are more palatable than him.
Maybe it is the fact that Woody Allen lacks all self confidence to make it even remotely believable that he would attract a woman who looks like Diane Keaton. Keaton was one of the hottest actresses at the time (Allen knew this; he slipped in a subtle joke about her involvement with The Godfather). Funnier would have been if the actor playing Alvy looked completely handsome but was secretly insecure.
Or that the woman had just been naive enough to mistake Alvy’s insights for wisdom. That was why Whatever Works was as good as it was; Evan Rachel Wood was such a low watt bulb that it was easy to see why she thought the way that she did. I could not understand why Annie acted the way she did. She was a terrible driver, certainly, but she did at least demonstrate a certain world weariness that should make her avoid people like Alvy. Why get into a relationship with him? Because then there would be no movie, I suppose.
I know this sounds like nitpicking – how can I love a script so deeply but still have reservations about a performance? And really, it is only one performance. But it was enough to distract me from the messages of the film. I was not surprised how the relationship ended. I was surprised, and deeply amused, by the insights into love that the film gave. For that, I heartily recommend this film. But then, would it be a comedy that I would watch and laugh at every time, like Dr. Strangelove? No – I still have too many reservations to give it a better review.