By Marc S. Sanders
Some of the best comedy comes from watching the suffering of others. One of the best examples of this is Woody Allen’s Best Picture winner Annie Hall. Allen directs and stars in the film, and the suffering his character Alvy Singer endures is by his own mindset. Alvy could never be happy unless he is finding another opportunity to be unhappy. At one point he marries a terrific girl played by Carol Kane. Yet that doesn’t work out. As a child, he finds an allegorical reason to live his life as he does by riding the bumper cars where his father works on Coney Island. Alvy just sees life as one crash after another.
Neurotic doesn’t even begin to describe what Alvy puts himself through. Most especially he becomes insecure with himself as he dates Annie Hall (Diane Keaton, who won her Best Actress Oscar for arguably her best career role). Annie is fun loving and a little flighty. Still, there’s nothing not to love about Annie. She wants to be a singer and Alvy showers her performance with compliments despite a very rough bar crowd. However, when Annie gets reassurance of her talent from others, Alvy is not so encouraging to advance a promising future for Annie.
We see a handful of women that Alvy dates, but most of the ninety minute film focuses on Alvy’s relationship with Annie. Woody Allen penned the script with Marshall Brickman as a loose interpretation of the real life relationship he had with Diane Keaton.
Alvy is a mess. As a child he frustrated his mother with the idea of world ending events yet to come, and thus not much reason to apply himself for a fulfilling life. As an adult, he can’t even wait patiently in a line for a movie because the gentleman standing behind him is aggravatingly wrong on his viewpoint of the films of Marshall McLuhan. The best response to a hilarious scene like this is realized by actually welcoming the real life McLuhan into the frame of the picture to tell off the snobbish jerk standing behind Alvy. I must admit I never heard of Marshall McLuhan myself. Still it’s the idea of running through with a depicted scene like this that’s so dang hilarious. Wouldn’t it be so satisfying to any of us to just have our heroes interrupt a conversation to shamelessly put down our enemies?
That’s what makes Annie Hall a much more special romantic comedy than anything before or thereafter really. Woody Allen breaks the fourth wall at times. He welcomes his adult self into his childhood classroom to debate with his elementary school teachers. Later, he tries to provide a source to his neuroses by bringing both Annie and his best friend Rob (Tony Roberts) into his home to see the relatives Alvy grew up with. These intrusions into scenes of Alvy’s childhood are daringly funny and like nothing I’ve ever seen.
Alvy’s neuroses are so intense that he’ll randomly stop people in the middle of New York to inquire about their sexual experiences. He even unloads his endless dialogue of some of the greatest wit on a horse being ridden by a police officer.
Keaton is perfect for Allen to play against. There’s the hilarious moment of the two of them trying to boil live lobsters. Just between the two of them they are going to be cooking SIX LOBSTERS. Why six? Who cares? The point is to demonstrate a hilariously loving memory at being surrounded by creatures they are both terrified to handle. One lobster even crawls behind the refrigerator and that’s an amusing problem. Annie takes advantage of getting action photos of Alvy with the lobsters. Later in the film, we see that Annie has displayed a collage of this moment on her wall.
Alvy and Annie know they don’t belong together. Yet, it’s hard for them to live without one another too. Annie feels no choice but to call Alvy over at three in the morning to get rid of a spider in her apartment. Alvy obliges without hesitation to leave the bed he’s sharing with his current girlfriend to rush right over to Annie’s aid.
The trying misery they have within themselves is what keeps Annie Hall alive. Interestingly enough is that Allen and Brickman write in a conclusion for the relationship between Alvy and Annie, and show their respective aftermaths. Alvy is a professional stand up comic. Annie dreams of being a singer. What comes of their destinies is refreshing.
I don’t think I could be a close friend to Alvy or Annie. I’d get tired of their ongoing kvetching. That certainly doesn’t mean I don’t like them. I love them actually, and I want them to be happy. Maybe Annie ends up being happy following the events of Annie Hall. For Alvy, I know for sure he’ll be happy so long as he continues to be miserable, and that’s completely fine with me, and I’m certain that’s completely fine with Alvy too.