Annie Hall

Annie Hall

*****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

'There's an old joke - um... two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of 'em says, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other one says, "Yeah, I know; and such small portions." Well, that's essentially how I feel about life - full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it's all over much too quickly. The... the other important joke, for me, is one that's usually attributed to Groucho Marx; but, I think it appears originally in Freud's "Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious," and it goes like this - I'm paraphrasing - um, "I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member." That's the key joke of my adult life, in terms of my relationships with women.'

So opens the multiple Oscar winning Annie Hall, most enduringly popular of all Woody Allen's work, in which the famously neurotic New York film-maker plays a neurotic New York comedian reflecting on his relationship with the girl of his dreams. Narratively and visually innovative, Annie Hall is very different from your average love story, and its impact on contemporary cinema was considerable. In particular, Allen's direct-to-camera monologues and post-modern awareness of his audience represent a dramatic break with familiar form. They give the viewer more the sense of being a participant than a mere observer. The viewer becomes Allen's - of Alvy's - confidante, not unlike the shrink whom he and Annie both visit during the course of their wayward romance.

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The effect of all this is that the viewer is inclined to invest a lot more in the story than is usually the case. It's easy to see these characters as real people, even during Allen's more absurd flights of fancy. His surreal exploration of meaning is counterpointed by a series of charming vignettes in which we see the hero, Alvy, and the eponymous Annie attempt to negotiate everyday situations through an awkward overanalysis which belies the clarity of their feelings for one another. Most famous among these is the scene in which live lobsters, destined for the cooking pot, escape onto the floor, causing Alvy to panic. It's a simple idea, yet easy to relate to. Throughout the film. Allen's genius is in bringing out the humour in little incidents of this sort, and in using them to provide sharp insights into character - not only that of the protagonists, but also the viewer's own.

Of course, not everyone is a Woody Allen fan, and those who simply find him annoying will hate this film. It is unabashedly quirky and peculiar, but as such it has the kind of visionary quality essential to all truly great cinema. Unlike its characters, it is single minded and knows exactly where it wants to take you. If you're willing to go along for the ride, you won't regret it.

Reviewed on: 12 May 2007
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A neurotic Jewish New York comedian attempts to have a relationship with a free spirited young woman who visits the same shrink.
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Director: Woody Allen

Writer: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman

Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, Paul Simon, Shelley Duvall, Janet Margolin, Colleen Dewhurst, Christopher Walken, Donald Symington, Helen Ludlam, Mordecai Lawner, Joan Neuman, Jonathan Munk, Ruth Volner

Year: 1977

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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