Woody Allen’s 1977 classic Annie Hall is widely considered to be one of Allen’s best films, along with Manhattan (1979), Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), and Sleeper (1973). The film is semi-autobiographical, based on the real life relationship between Allen and his leading lady, Diane Keaton, which ended in 1975. That same year, Allen turned 40, prompting him to evaluate his life, and he began to write Annie Hall. The film was critically acclaimed, and Allen’s top grossing film until the 2011 release of Midnight in Paris. The American Film Institute put it at #35 on its 2007 list of Top 100 Films, and at #4 on their list of funniest films of all time. Finally, it was given the Best Picture, Best Actress (Diane Keaton), Best Director (Allen), and Best Original Screenplay (Allen and Marshall Brickman) Oscars at the 1978 Academy Award ceremony. In addition to these accolades, Annie Hall marks an important shift in the American perceptions of gender following the feminist movement of the late 1960s, a point that is reflected in Alvy Singer and Annie Hall’s modern romance.
Annie Hall tells the love story of Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) and Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), which is a reflection of both the new 1970s relationship, as well as the actual romance between Allen and Keaton during the early 1970s. The film addresses new sexual attitudes, new perceptions of gender, and increased equality in relationships. Although the film ends with Annie and Alvy breaking up (something that is stated in the first minutes of the film), it is still considered by many to be one of the best romantic comedies in American film.
The women of Allen’s films tend to be of the modern and liberated variety, and Annie is certainly the archetype She and Alvy (played by Allen) meet on the tennis court, and after a terrifying car ride back to Annie’s apartment, she invites him up for a glass of wine. She is educated, intellectual, and very much her own person. While the relationship has its peaks and valleys, Annie becomes dissatisfied when she realizes that Alvy is holding her back, and they break up so she can pursue a career in music. Alvy encourages her to sing, take college classes, and pursue her other interests, but his neuroses keep him from being as supportive as he could be. He tries to get her back, but she stands her ground.
Alvy is also indicative of the “new man,” who is free to be more sensitive and in touch with his emotions. With the rise of the feminist movement, men could feel free to be liberated from the social construct of masculinity. They no longer felt the pressure to have a dissatisfying career in order to be the breadwinner, especially since their wives could just as easily support the family while the husband found a more satisfying job.
On a more personal note, Annie Hall has been one of the pivotal films of my life. It introduced me to the genius that is Woody Allen. The film was one of the three featured in my Masters thesis, and I believe there are so many levels to his films. While gender is a hot topic in American studies, as well as general films studies, I took a different approach to Annie Hall in my Masters thesis. New York is unique in that many New Yorkers live without the use of a personal car. They rely on the subway, cabs, or just their legs. New York is a city that is incredibly walkable, and during the years leading up to Allen’s film career, that trait was under attack. Robert Moses’ goal to make New York City a city for cars was moving forward at a frightening pace. He had cut the Bronx in two with the Cross Bronx Expressway; the Rockefellers had dismantled Lower Manhattan through the creation of the World Trade Center and its “superblock;” and the financial crisis was shutting down public transit in all five boroughs. Allen speaks out against these changes throughout Annie Hall (as well as his other New York films).
First, Allen uses the “walk and talk” in numerous scenes. The first time we see Alvy in the narrative setting (he has spent the first part of the movie doing a talking head scene and flashbacks) as he is walking with his friend Max through Manhattan. He and Annie have many meaningful conversations while briskly moving along New York’s sidewalks. He emphasizes the importances of foot travel in the city through these scenes.
Secondly, driving becomes a running joke throughout the film. Alvy first talks about how he got his anger out as a child at his father’s bumper car ride in Coney Island, and as a result does not drive. Annie herself is a TERRIBLE driver, mirroring the stereotypical contemporary distracted driver. She doesn’t have a cell phone, but she is searching for discarded food, trash, gum, and basically doing everything but keeping her eyes on the road. When Alvy and Annie visit her family in Wisconsin, we discover that Annie has an emotionally disturbed brother, Dwayne. Dwayne confesses to Alvy that he has a fantasy of crashing his car. Cut to Dwayne driving Annie and Alvy to the airport, which is one of the funniest and most memorable scenes in the movie. Finally, when Alvy travels to Los Angeles to find Annie, he is forced to rent a car, and promptly crashes it, and finds himself in jail.
Annie Hall addresses a few of the most important issues of the 1970s, both on nationwide and city-wide levels. Woody Allen is considered a “New York” director, along with Martin Scorsese and Sydney Lumet. The issues of New York tend to be the issues of the nation, and therefore Annie Hall is definitely a pivotal American film.