Sunday 5 February 2012

Movie Review: Annie Hall (1977)

A ground-breaking romantic comedy, Annie Hall set a genre standard that has rarely been matched. Woody Allen and Diane Keaton sparkle as the perfect example of opposites attracting each other, and both deliver career defining performances.

The film is narrated by Allen in the role of Alvy Singer. An insecure Jew born and raised in Brooklyn and now working as a stand-up comic in New York City, Singer recounts his on-again, off-again relationship with girlfriend and aspiring singer Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). Although they share little in common, Singer and Hall find a unique chemistry between regular bouts of sparring and bickering.

Twice divorced and turning forty, Singer is obsessed with issues of life and death, sensitive about being a Jew, condescending towards the views of others, and unapologetically pessimistic. Hall is cheerful, transparent, self effacing, and a demon driver. They argue about education, sex, smoking pot, life in New York, and social engagements, but nevertheless enjoy being together more than being apart, until the relationship appears to reach a dead end.

Allen populates Annie Hall with colourful characters in relatively small but memorable roles, including Tony Roberts as Alvy's only friend, Paul Simon as the main competition vying for Annie's attention, Carol Kane as Alvy's first wife and Shelley Duvall as a one-night stand. They drift in and out of the wobbly orbit being travelled by Alvy and Annie, adding touches of quirky humour.

Annie Hall is filled with daring touches of humour drawn from original film-making techniques, including Allen continuously breaking the fourth wall to address the audience, and a scene where sub-titles are used to convey what Alvy and Annie and really thinking, a totally separate conversation from their actual exchange of dialogue. Alvy and Annie in their present forms frequently drop in on episodes from their past, and one scene is entirely animated.

In another stylistic triumph, Annie Hall evokes the pace of real life thanks to Allen using long takes to allow scenes to develop and breathe, the camera of cinematographer Gordon Willis an unobtrusive and casual observer of unfolding human interaction, editor Ralph Rosenblum prominent due to his lack of activity. Characters stumble over their thoughts and sometimes over each other's words as they would if there were no cameras around, with the humour stemming from recognizable wit rather than cinematic sarcasm.

Annie Hall's influence extended beyond the screen and helped shape the cultural landscape of the mid to late 1970s. Keaton's wardrobe ignited a radical fashion trend and Allen's commentary on life and death framed societal engagement. At the core of the movie are two compellingly irresistible characters: despite their up and down relationship, they would have been most welcome guests at any dinner party.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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