Why It Works: Annie Hall

Why It Works is an ongoing column which breaks down some of the most acclaimed films in history and explores what makes them so iconic, groundbreaking, and memorable.


After writing about HIGH FIDELITY in a recent Why It Works, I couldn't help but think about Woody Allen's 1977 classic ANNIE HALL. While the two films are tonally quite different, the combination of a protagonist speaking directly to the viewer, the rehashing old relationships to make sense of a currently faltering one, and the occasional what-if gag makes it hard not to compare the two. ANNIE HALL marks a changing point in Allen's career as he moves from zany comedy to intimate drama- while letting one of his most personal films be a balanced unification of both. Here's why it works:


"I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member." With this quote attributed to Groucho Marx, Alvy Singer tells us exactly who he is less than a minute into the film. Yes, he's neurotic and sarcastic and plenty of other things we might find grating in a heavier movie, but ultimately Alvy is harmless, entertaining, and just wants someone to drag along to THE SORROW AND THE PITY for the ninetieth time. Enter Annie Hall. Annie is at once awkward, bashful, anxious, intelligent, fascinating, and unbelievably charming. In Annie, we see many of the same needs as Alvy, but where Alvy tends to be pessimistic and guarded, Annie is much more free-spirited and open to the world. Not surprisingly, by the end of the film, Alvy has grown very little while Annie has developed into a mature, self-confident, and elegant woman. Rounding out the cast of characters are Alvy's friend Rob (aka Max's friend Max), his ex Allison ("I love being reduced to a cultural stereotype"), his new lover Pam ("it's transplendent!"), Annie's creepy brother Duane (Christopher Walken, folks!), and Paul Simon in a wonderfully weird performance as LA record producer Tony Lacey.

"There's an old joke..."


ANNIE HALL not only has very little in the way of plot, but Alvy and Annie get together almost immediately after meeting, so we don't even have the will-they-won't-they tension of many romantic stories. What we do get is a barrage of ever-changing gags intertwined with the very personal and relatable development of Alvy and Annie's relationship. Alvy seems increasingly unwilling to try new things, while Annie wants to experience life and broaden her horizons. Eventually breaking up, the pair fail to find happiness elsewhere and end up getting back together, only to realize they've grown too far apart by this point. Along the way, we get stand-up style monologues from Alvy, an animated Snow White scene, flashbacks to Alvy's exaggerated childhood, an out-of-body sexual encounter, dueling analyst sessions, and a feisty lobster whose ferocity is matched only by a Buick-sized spider. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that the gags never feel out of place with the rest of the story, as most of them give us an insight into the characters and their relationships rather than just acting as filler before the next important scene.

"Love is too weak a word for the way I feel. I lurve you... I loave you. I luff you."


In his opening monologue, Alvy tells us he and Annie broke up, so we're not surprised when things don't work out for them in the end. While modern romantic comedies tend to show the steady build of a couple falling in love, ANNIE HALL presents us with the slow burn of a couple falling apart. Their breakup is cordial and mutual, so we don't feel too disappointed, but we also get the feeling the story isn't over yet. Alvy does try to get Annie back and writes a play about their relationship in which they do end up together, so there's a sense of pain and begrudging acceptance, but ultimately we see Alvy has come to terms with the outcome of the relationship. In the film's final moments, Alvy tells us he ran into Annie again sometime later while they were both on dates and that they caught up afterward and remembered old times. "I realized what a terrific person she was and-and how much fun it was just knowing her," Alvy muses, leaving us with the thought that the joy we get out of an ill-fated relationship is absolutely worth the eventual heartbreak that comes with it.

"I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark."


In an unparalleled career, Woody Allen has written and directed 46 films in the past 50 years, not to mention writing and acting in several other projects along the way. There's something special about ANNIE HALL, though. Allen both delivers a raw intimacy not present in some of his comedies as well as a wry playfulness that would feel out of place in many of his dramas. This not only gives us a perfect window into the Woody Allen ethos but also keeps the film from being easily pigeon-holed into any one genre. The film's many jokes are still wildly entertaining, from the Marshall McLuhan reveal to the inner monologue subtitles to the strangers in the street sharing secrets and explaining life to Alvy. Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Carol Kane, Paul Simon, Shelley Duvall, and Christopher Walken flawlessly lead a cast of memorable and dynamic characters, with pre-cameos by Jeff Goldblum, Sigourney Weaver, and Beverly D'Angelo to boot. Finally, ANNIE HALL is nothing without its title character and Diane Keaton's absolutely stunning performance. Not only does Keaton give one of the most honest, natural, and watchable performances ever put on screen, but Annie's transformation is a reminder to those who feel insignificant, apprehensive, or small- especially in cases where a significant other might prefer they stay that way. I think I watched the scene below about a dozen times while preparing this article, and now hopefully you'll do the same. La-dee-da, la-dee-da, la-la, yeah...

Thoughts? What else worked for you? What didn't? Strike back below!

If you have any movies you'd like to see put under the microscope, let us know below or send me an email at [email protected].

Source: JoBlo.com



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