The first time I watched Annie Hall, I was about thirteen or fourteen. I had enjoyed other Woody Allen films such as Zelig, The Purple Rose of Cairo, and Radio Days, so my film-buff father naturally hoped I would enjoy the classic that put Allen on the map. I remember regarding Allen’s misogynistic, deeply flawed protagonist with the disdain only a hormone-riddled, far-left budding feminist could have. I hated it. And I wanted to hate it this time. So, of course, the exact opposite happened.
I get it now, Dad.
Annie Hall is a fantastic movie about a relationship between Alvy Singer, a neurotic, intellectual comic who hates intellectuals, and Annie Hall, a quirky, yet charming singer who can’t seem to grow up. It’s an honest tale where two immature people find each other, love each other, and ultimately leave each other.
The movie starts with Alvy directly addressing the audience. He laments the failures of his romantic life with that now-famous quote: “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” Then, he wonders aloud what went wrong between him and Annie. They used to be in love, what happened?
That’s the whole movie: an autopsy of a failed romantic relationship. However, what could have been a very boring diagnosis is instead a smart, engaging exploration of the intricacies of human relationships largely because of Woody Allen’s stunning creativity as a filmmaker.
Allen is never afraid to play around with diegesis. Throughout the film, various comedic bits add a sense of fun to the story, such as Alvy’s animated scene with the Wicked Witch from Snow White, or subtitles revealing Alvy and Annie’s inner thoughts while they make awkward small talk. Instead of distracting the audience from the plot, these bits miraculously add another layer of authenticity to the story.
The core of the film’s authenticity, however, comes from Alvy’s unconventional character arc.
In a narrative film, the protagonist has usually undergone some sort of character change by the end of the story. This makes for a satisfying narrative. In Annie Hall, however, this doesn’t happen. Alvy displays egocentrism, sexist attitudes, pessimism, an underdeveloped sense of empathy, and a complete lack of self-awareness throughout the film. None of that changes by the end of the story. He’s left still wondering why his relationship with Annie fell apart, having learned little about himself.
Annie, on the other hand, grows because of her relationship with Alvy. She learns to assert her independence and get what she wants out of life. She refuses to let Alvy’s negative attitude bring her down a moment longer and she breaks up with him. By the end of the film, I was rooting for her to do so. My sympathy wasn’t toward the protagonist, oddly enough.
However, I never really hated Alvy. He’s a deeply flawed character, but that’s okay. It’s okay because he didn’t end up getting what he wanted. Instead, he came to the conclusion that relationships, while ridiculous and illogical, are a necessary and beautiful part of life.
For someone with such a negative worldview, that’s a pretty optimistic way of looking at things. Life isn’t necessarily about getting what you want all the time. It’s about experiences. It’s about living.
Annie Hall teaches us that there’s beauty in every human experience. Maybe that’s what my dad wanted me to glean from it originally. I eventually got there, it just took a little growing up.