Annie Hall (1977)

Recently, my boss, who’s a psychiatrist, was asked to give a lecture at the annual meeting of his profession’s major organization. He spent a lot of time debating over the title of his lecture. Once he came up with an idea he liked, he solicited people’s opinions to gauge how it might go over with an audience. The title? But We Need the Eggs. Few people got the reference.

I spent a good chunk of time during this movie wondering whether I’d misremembered Annie Hall being the film from which that punchline is derived. It’s basically the very last line, a summation of why we carry on in relationships despite their absurdities. And I’ll admit that I’m not entirely sure I understand the metaphorical eggs, either in the way Woody Allen meant it or my boss (though, to be fair, I never actually heard my boss’ talk). But it’s interesting how joke-telling plays a role in the film, not so much as a character trait, but as an overarching commentary.

Joke-telling itself is sort of a dying art. That is, of the sort that Woody Allen’s character partakes in here, where he tells us a joke and ends with the punchline. Jokes that used to be filed away in paperback books, like 1001 Funniest Jokes about Walking into a Bar. I don’t know anyone who tells jokes like that these days, excluding stand-up comics. Now we have the internet and memes and gifs, but people don’t tell old school jokes. I imagine cocktail parties in decades past, where people would gather around the resident wisecracker, who rattled off a parade of jokes, and everyone laughed at the appropriate point. Maybe people never did that. Or maybe I just don’t have very many friends.

Before this, I don’t think I’d ever seen anything Woody Allen has made, and certainly didn’t realize that he’s released a movie every year since the 1970s. Of course, even underneath the homey little rock where I live, I have a general sense of Woody Allen: neurotic filmmaker, skeevy personal scandal.  That’s all I got.

What’s striking about Annie Hall to me is that, even in the context of these Best Pictures, this film is quite unlike anything else I’ve seen. It’s not so much that any individual device used is unique in itself (although it’s quite possible I’m thinking of all the people that stole his techniques afterwards); it’s the cumulative effect that makes the movie stand out. This is self-aware, with a knowing narrator pausing in the action to address his audience directly. It’s also full of hilarious, subtle lines (“Darling, I’ve been killing spiders since I was 30”) that often stand out as clever, written lines rather than natural speech, but don’t detract in such a meta sort of film.

Although I enjoyed it, I did find the frenetic pace overwhelming. That’s partly a personal quirk – I tend to struggle with following dialogue-heavy scenes, which is basically all of Annie Hall. Also, watching anxious people usually makes me feel a bit anxious. As I write this, several days after watching the film, I’m a little fuzzy on the specifics of the plot. Will I check out his other films? I’m not sure – how do they compare to this one?

 

Theme: New York romance

First Time Watching? Yes

Final Verdict: Like a $400/month apartment in New York.

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