I have been watching all the movies that won the Oscar for Best Picture. The next on my list was the 1977 winner, Annie Hall, directed by Woody Allen and starring Allen and Diane Keaton. It was written by Allen and Marshall Brickman.
Annie Hall is a thoughtful and funny look at relationships, exploring why sometimes, even love isn't enough to save a romance. Even today, the film's unconventional narrative style is fresh and interesting.
The other Best Picture nominees that year were The Goodbye Girl, Julia, Star Wars, and The Turning Point. Annie Hall also won Oscars for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Keaton), Best Director and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen.
As the movie opens, Alvy Singer (Allen), a character who seems a lot like Allen himself, delivers a monologue to the camera. He tells the viewers that he and Annie have just broken up, and he's trying to make sense of their relationship. His self-deprecating monologue provides some witty insight, the spirit of which carries throughout the film.
The relationship unfolds in front of our eyes, much the way that someone reviewing a relationship might relive moments of their shared past. First, we see the relationship's last days, with the couple squabbling over seemingly minor things. Then we go back to the moment they first met, their first date, and periodic highlights of their relationship. It's not strictly chronological, jumping around between scenes that are related thematically. By the end, the viewer has a good sense of both why these people got together and why they can't stay together, despite their feelings for each other.
When I first watched this film, about 15 years ago (as I remember, in a hotel room with my mom on a family vacation), I thought it was incredibly sad. Now that I am close to the age of the characters in the film, however, I understand now what I didn't understand when I first watched this film: that while it's possible for people to change, that there are limits. I realize that sometimes you just have to make peace with the fact that some relationships aren't meant to be. The best you can do in those cases is to savor the good memories.
Back then, before my first marriage and divorce, I thought love could conquer all. But now I realize that love is important, but you must also have similar goals and a willingness to grow together. To get past even minor difficulties, both parties have to agree to find a solution. And that's what Annie and Alvy can't do.
They are very different people, from very different backgrounds, which is clear from the start, thanks to a split screen of their two families having dinner. While there is an initial attraction and they love each other's company, eventually, those differences drive them apart. For example, Annie feels intellectually inferior to him and accuses him of treating her as if she's not as smart. The truth is, that's not something he believes but is simply her own insecurity. He, on the other hand, was raised by a highly-critical, argumentative family. Handing out compliments is not his way. He's too absorbed with his own issues to give her much support.
Through it all, they live through some simply magical moments, such as the famous scene where they're trying to cook live lobsters, both freaking out and yet laughing at the same time. Or when they first break up, and she calls him over to kill a spider in her bathroom. He declares it the size of a Buick and attacks it with a tennis racket.
One of the reasons I love this movie so much is because it takes a creative approach to narrative. First of all, it tells the story out of order. But also, it uses multiple techniques to get behind the thought processes of Annie and Alvy. On their first date, for example, as they're making small talk on a roof, subtitles reveal what they're really thinking. In another scene, Alvy stops to ask passersby for advice about his relationship. My favorite response, a couple who reveals the secret to their success is that they are both shallow and empty, have no ideas and nothing interesting to say.
This movie is so compelling because, while we may not all be a bundle of neuroses like Alvy (and Annie), we all bring our own emotional baggage to relationships. Like the characters in this film, what we say and do is often miles apart from what we really think.
The title of the film is no accident, as the liner notes for the DVD reminded me, showing the definition for "anhedonia," or the inability to experience pleasure from normally pleasurable life events. Anhedonia, in fact, was the original working title for the film. The name Annie Hall (which ironically is also another name for Keaton, whose real name is Diane Hall and whose nickname is Annie) is evocative of that psychological condition. If you had asked me 15 years ago, I would have said that Alvy suffers from anhedonia. Now, I believe that both of them do. They both get in the way of their own happiness. He's more obvious about it, because he's always complaining outwardly, but she also tends to overthink situations and to sabotage herself.
Ironically, though, this funny and insightful look into relationships is definitely enjoyable.
Rating (5 out of 5): *****
The secret to happiness is allowing yourself to be happy.