Annie Hall asks whether a scrawny, redhaired neurotic from Brooklyn (who describes himself as “one of the few males who suffers from penis envy”) can find happiness with a stunning blond neurotic from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. The answer, inevitably, is inconclusive, but the questioning, in Woody Allen’s new film, is acute and perceptive.
Actually, a full range of neurotic obsessions is one of the few things that Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) and Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) legitimately share. He is a successful stand-up comedian, an intellectual whose idea of hell is having to listen to the pontificating blather of the man behind him in the movie lineup. She is an awkward, aspiring singer incapable of telling a joke, a waif-woman who would let herself be ruled by her feelings if only she could figure out what those feelings were. His background includes an over-hearty Jewish childhood lived in a house under a roller coaster and two subsequent failed marriages; hers is a prosperous WASP nest with a disarmingly unconcealed streak of anti-Semitism. Still, angst is a great tie that binds, and Alvy and Annie have the complete kit, sorted into compartments: sex, commitment, identity and freedom.
Annie Hall charts the course of this precarious relationship with Woody Allen’s characteristic wit, as well as a new and revelatory candor. The wit we’ve come to expect—those quicksilver darts puncturing a
barrage balloon of contemporary pretensions and attitudes. Indeed, there still seems an excessive amount of these essentially self-serving one-liners which, brilliant as they can be, do check the flow of narrative and character. For it is here, in the (for Allen) previously uncharted regions of feeling, that Annie Hall achieves its greatest innovations. For the first time, perhaps because the film overlaps on his own relationship with Diane Keaton, Woody Allen has begun to explore both sides of a relationship (his past films have been insistently narcissistic); here,'he has allowed a woman equal understanding and compassion. Thus, though Keaton’s own mannerisms—like her congenital inability to utter a complete sentence—can be irritating, she is able to provide a character of full dimensions, with a base of feeling and need that allows Annie Hall to be as moving as it is merry, URJO KAREDA
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