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The Unpopular Opinion: Annie Hall

09.05.2012

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THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

**** SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

Woody Allen is a funny guy. A very funny guy, in fact. He’s the ultimate exemplar of “off-beat,” delivering one-liners and observations that are stunningly funny both in and of themselves and for the way they consistently surprise you. He is an understated comic who, while he may occasionally resort to absurdity, is content to not make a big deal out of his jokes or humor. Indeed, his self-deprecation is from where a fair amount of his jokes arise. And while he may not have the most unique or compelling cinematic style, the way he writes his characters is often impressively astute and refreshingly alive.

Except for those times when one of his films becomes so bound up in the character of “Woody Allen” that the film itself becomes a character built in the same mold. Then it becomes impressively boring and extraordinarily annoying. ANNIE HALL is just such a film, a schizophrenic work that drags on and on into feeling twice or thrice as long as its scant hour and thirty two minute run time. In fact, ANNIE HALL has so many identity issues and irrepressible quirks that I’d send it straight to a shrink if I could.

Annie Hall unpop 1

"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."

It’s a well known fact that ANNIE HALL went through many incarnations throughout the script stage, the shooting stage, and the post-production stage – the result, in my experience, is a hodge-podge mess of moments that don’t serve so much to compliment each other as to hamper to the point of impotence. An attempt is made to move forward and back in time and engage the audience with the careful peeling away of how Alvy and Annie met, who they are, and how they came to understand it was time to part. But like most everything else attempted by this film, the story and characters within become so bogged down by their own quirk and neurosis that I couldn’t help but be bored out of my skull for almost the entire time. I say “almost” because I distinctly recall cracking a few smiles and laughing out loud a few times, but now that the film is done and back in its case I can’t recall when or where they were.

I’ve rarely found Allen to have a distinct cinematic style, something to distinguish him from other filmmakers or serve to elevate the text and the acting to a new level of storytelling.  And ANNIE HALL is a prime example of this, with the camera work and framing edging on the point of being distractingly boring. It’s not so bad as Tim Burton in his latter years, but it’s close. Cinematographer Gordon Willis (THE GODFATHER) lights the hell out of the film and does what he can to save it, but even Willis’ skill can only do so much before ANNIE HALL loses its effectiveness on a visual level.  On the one hand I don't know if anyone has ever exactly hailed Allen as a visual genius, but for a film that 1) won Best Picture and 2) is often hailed a number one favorite amongst Allen's filmography I find it fair to mention that it does little for me in the way of visual storytelling.

Annie Hall unpop 2

"My grammy never gave gifts. She was too busy getting raped by Cossacks."

At the end of the day, I think a lot of my issues with this film can be summed up thusly: ANNIE HALL is just too much Woody Allen for my taste.  If I'm enjoying a tasty piece of berry pie, I don't need i covered in crust sprinkles and another mound of berries and a large dollop of berry syrup.  I want it just as it is, rather than drowned in everything that makes it what it is.  With ANNIE HALL, we have Woody Allen starring, Woody Allen writing the script, Woody Allen directing, and the entire film itself acting as a complete expression/manifestation of Woody Allen.  It's just too much - I don't need to key into the main character's worldview and experience by indulging in an hour and thirty two minutes of what it's like to be Alvy Singer.  I don't enjoy that sort of all-inclusive experience, I don't think it works, and in fact I think it's frustratingly harmful to what might have been.  There are moments of keen wit, brilliant observation, and striking commentary to be found in ANNIE HALL about love and life and human relationship.  Which makes me all the more sad when they are swiftly buried deep by the film's own distraught, confused weight.

Look - Woody Allen is one of our most prolific filmmakers.  It's not his fault that once in a while he tries so hard to make something work that it dies, smothered in the effort.  And of all the films he's made that haven't quite worked, ANNIE HALL just happens to be the worst of the offenders.  I'm sure that my own favorites (MANHATTAN, MATCH POINT, CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, PLAY IT AGAIN SAM, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS) would be controversial in their own right, but I find them to succeed in all the ways that ANNIE HALL does not.  I find them bright and rewatchable and exciting and inventive and poignant and sweet and illuminatory, and considering how many of Allen's films I have to choose from even beyond my own favorites, I'm very okay with not digging ANNIE HALL.

Annie Hall unpop 3

"...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?" The guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs." Well, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y'know, they're totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and... but, uh, I guess we keep goin' through it because, uh, most of us... need the eggs."

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to ajstepenberg@joblo.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you wish, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!

Extra Tidbit: Go read Woody Allen's prose work. The writing is both funnier than that of his films and less tied into his neuroses, two elements which may or may not be connected.
Source: JoBlo.com

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