With six feature credits already under his belt, some of them classics, co-writer/director Woody Allen finally became Woody Allen with the brilliant “Annie Hall,” and in doing so would be rightfully rewarded with four major Academy Awards: Best Picture, Original Screenplay (co-written by Marshall Brickman), Director and Actress (Diane Keaton). 35 years later, the simple story of Manhattan neurotic Alvy Singer (Allen) and his years-long romance with the delightfully ditzy Annie Hall (Keaton) still delights in ways that few romantic comedies ever come close to.
Told with a scattershot timeline (that somehow works) and through an endless number of short scenes that could stand on their own as insightful, amusing, and romantic skits, “Annie Hall” is a story told to us in the first-person by Alvy, a famous New York comedian. His story isn’t so much about his romance with Annie; it’s more about what he’s learned from the experience — not only about himself but human nature in general. And if you judge the film by its touching closing scene (as I do), you can count this among Allen’s rare optimistic offerings.
Keaton’s performance is a wonder to behold. When you compare the “la-dee-da” Annie Alvy first meets to the more worldly and composed Annie she eventually becomes (much of it due to Alvy pushing her in that direction), Keaton’s Oscar win is a no-brainer. Right along with Alvy, we fall in love with Annie at first sight and, in the end, long for the innocence she loses. And this, of course, is also why the film is so bittersweet. With the best of intentions (mostly), Alvy helps Annie grow up, and she ends up outgrowing him.
What “Annie Hall” really is, though, is hilarious. The hit-to-miss ratio for jokes that fly at you about every 15 seconds is somewhere around 98%, something that even the Marx Brothers never achieved. Like “Manhattan,” none of the humor is contrived or driven by the need for a punchline. It all emanates from that most perfect of places, and that’s characters created with genius precision. For that reason, the humor of “Annie Hall” never grows stale, and thanks to depth of Allen’s themes and ideas, there’s always something new to discover in subsequent viewings.
In 93 perfectly paced minutes, Allen not only gives us a full tour of the human condition of his two protagonists but one of the most penetrating and hilarious skewerings of Hollywood you’ll ever see. And, as always, liberal intellectuals are hit hardest.
“Annie Hall” is a flawless film, and thanks to a structure impossible to recreate, it’s also a one-of-a-kind storytelling experience. Unfortunately, this new Blu-ray release is as bare bones as the DVD release. The notoriously private Allen — because he wisely wants his films to stand on their own and not be interpreted by anyone, including him — just doesn’t do behind-the scenes extras or commentary.
For those of you as in love with the pre-Disneyfied New York of the 1970s as I am, that alone makes the upgrade to Blu-ray worthwhile. Almost every shot in “Annie Hall” is iconic, and Allen taking us on an affectionate tour of a small part of that small island he loves so much is just one of the many pleasures waiting to be discovered in one of the best films produced during a decade with all kinds of impressive competition.
“Annie Hall” is available at Amazon.com.