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Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #68: Annie Hall

Another year, another instance of reviewing a movie made by a director with a rather dubious personal history. Ever since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke out last year I realize there are plenty of movies on this Greatest Movies list whose crew includes directors, producers, writers or actors who have been accused of sexual misconduct/lewd behaviour/rape/being a complete scumbag. Woody Allen directed Annie Hall (1977), arguably one of his funniest movies of all times, but he was also accused of sexual abuse as far back as the early 90s and kept on working. I am a completionist and Annie Hall is next on my list, so I am going to have press on and try to look back at this movie by separating the artist from the work.

This is a little bit tricky with a Woody Allen movie since in most of his movies he likes to write, direct, and be in front of the camera in the lead role. In Annie Hall his character is comedian Alvy Singer, a prototypical New Yorker as in many of Allen’s movies. He is also a very neurotic man who in this case is neurotically going over his failed relationship with the titular Annie Hall played by long-time Woody Allen co-star Diane Keaton. As they have worked together many times Allen and Keaton have great chemistry together, which is one of the reasons why the movie works so well.

Another reason is that the jokes work on many levels, sometime intellectual, sometimes physical. Early on Alvy is waiting in line for a movie and hears someone deriding the work of philosopher Marshall McLuhan. Alvy defends McLuhan and then, surprise, the philosopher himself is in line to defend his work. Since McLuhan is Canadian and his work was part of the curriculum when I was taking university courses, I really appreciated that cameo. As for the physical comedy, try not to laugh at the sight of Alvy driving during a trip in California. Apparently some New Yorkers, at least in Alvy’s case, spend so much time using public transit that when they get behind the wheel they become a menace to society.

Alvy and Annie work great together, at least in the beginning. Eventually problems emerge which lead to a breakup, a reconciliation, and then another breakup. Throughout the ups and downs of the relationship Allen and co-writer Marshall Brickman also try to show the relationship from Annie’s point of view, which highlights how complicated these things can be. The man might think they are not having enough sex, while the woman might think they could take things down a notch. It’s also a problem if they are telling those things to their therapists and not each other.

Therapy is of course another hallmark of Allen’s film, and in Annie Hall it often feels as though the audience is filling in as Alvy’s therapist as he goes over not just his relationship with Annie, but his life story as well. This raises the question as to whether or not the movie is even funnier for therapists or people who have studied psychoanalysis, but the average audience member can still have plenty of fun watching Alvy respond to an emergency call at Annie’s apartment at 3 am. It turns out the emergency is a spider the size of a Buick.

The writing in Annie Hall is some of the funniest Allen has ever written, it has interesting things to say about relationships, and the cast includes heavyweights such as Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken, and Sigourney Weaver in her film debut. It is definitely a must-watch for fans of classic comedies and clever writing, but nowadays it is very difficult to watch it without thinking about the personal life of the man who made this masterpiece.


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