It’s difficult to place the films of American director and screenwriter Woody Allen in contemporary society, with the legacy of the filmmaker having been tarnished by decades of allegations of sexual misconduct. Although the conversation between art and artist is an ongoing and ever-developing one, it remains undeniably difficult to look back on such films as Sleeper, Manhattan and Annie Hall with total objectivity.
Previously known as one of the leading voices of American cinema, Allen helped to shape the landscape of independent western cinema through the late 1970s and ‘80s with his sharp scripts and insightful romantic comedies, winning an Academy Award for Best Director for both Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters. Though, whilst the latter is celebrated in independent circles, it is Annie Hall that remains the filmmaker’s most adored work, even if it fails to resonate with a modern world that has changed so much 45 years after the film’s release in 1977.
A New York story following one of its downtrodden residents, Annie Hall is a love story told from the fragile heart of Woody Allen, penning the script with co-writer Marshall Brickman as well as starring in the lead role alongside Diane Keaton. Reflecting on his relationship with his titular ex-lover, Allen plays Alvy Singer, a Jewish comedian who can’t seem to get over how and why the fling came to an end.
A smart, cinematic poem, Annie Hall is undoubtedly intelligently written with sharp comedic wit, as Woody championed his own style of humour, built on the foundations of the likes of the American screenwriter S.J. Perelman as well as the cinematic brilliance of Ingmar Bergman. Though, unlike the comedies that had come before its release, Allen imbued a sense of sincerity into his romance, where the punchline of his jokes often landed with a visceral emotional response rather than frivolous chuckles.
Such combines to create a compelling romance that thrives thanks to the connection between Keaton and Allen who divorced in real life six years prior to the release of the film, making their wistful longing for each other that much more authentic. Though, whilst Allen approaches the 1977 film with a brattish, whiny masculinity, it is Keaton who makes the film personable, grounding Annie Hall with a natural charm that the filmmaker could only dream of possessing.
Remaining a competent actor, it is Allen’s skittish nervousness that makes him such an irritating protagonist, with his comedic shtick getting somewhat old if you’ve had the ‘pleasure’ of watching the likes of Love and Death or Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask. Approaching Annie Hall among many of his other projects with a conceited sense of pride and importance, it is surprising quite how quickly his 1977 film has dated in an industry that no longer tolerates such obtrusive figures.
“For some reason that film is very likeable,” Allen surprisingly reveals, explaining his dislike for Annie Hall in an interview with Robert Weide, “I’ve made better films than that…I mean, I’ve made films that were as good, but for some reason that’s got some charismatic, inexplicable hold on people. That and Manhattan too…But for me personally, I missed. It was too treacly at the end, too bailed-out”.
Just like Woody Allen has himself admitted, perhaps it’s time for us too to consider the longevity of Annie Hall, the 1978 Best Picture winner that simply isn’t as good as you remember it being.