Recently, a friend and I discussed the scene in Annie Hall where we get a glimpse of Alvy’s first play, and how he imagines life should be, even if “should be” doesn’t make for good writing. The scene shows Annie agreeing to take Alvy back, right before he turns to the screen and makes an excuse about it being his first play. Why should writing, whether film, theater, or literature, be happy above all else? What it should be is accurate…or at least psychologically accurate. And if any film is completely psychologically accurate, it’s Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.
While they may appear similar in some ways, filmmakers Wes Anderson and Woody Allen could not be more different. Allen provides psychological, humorous insight into the mindset of people, when Anderson gives just humorous insight. There is almost no psychological accuracy. But I know plenty of film buffs who love Anderson, and tell me I don’t like him just because his films are odd. I can handle odd. What I can’t handle is a guy who makes no attempt to make people act the way real people do. So if someone tells me to watch a funny, odd film like Anderson’s, I tell them that the definition of funny, odd films are those of Woody Allen.
Annie Hall’s plot is simple; it tells the story of a couple. Are they in love? Allen’s character Alvy Singer always says they are, but we never actually know. Like 2009’s (500) Days of Summer, Annie Hall jumps all over the place, not always told straightforward. Unlike (500) Days of Summer, we never see a massive change of character. We only see Alvy’s neurotic self lose some naivety. Maybe. He was never as romantic as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tom.
Annie Hall doesn’t play it like a romantic comedy. When people ask me about it, I say it’s basically it’s an artsy, film version of Seinfeld. Incredibly similar types of humor, with almost some of the exact same jokes. When Alvy misses the first two minutes of a movie, he gives a speech about why he refuses to watch, much like a speech Jerry or George would give. How are Jerry and Alvy so different? Both are New York, Jewish comedians, with neuroticism rivaling each other to the final joke they give. I wouldn’t be surprised if Seinfeld and Larry David based the characters off of Alvy. They might’ve already said something about it, but I couldn’t find anything. But I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that Kramer “starred” in Allen’s film in an episode (remember the famous Pretzel Line?).
Screenwriters like Aaron Sorkin, Steve Zaillian, and (not kidding) Seth Rogen, all have something in common: they just know how people talk. They understand how people interact with each other, in many ways. But no screenwriter is more of a master at this than Allen. He doesn’t get just the dialogue right, but their psyche right as well. The scene where Alvy and Annie are talking on the balcony while subtitles show what one is thinking about the other really gets it exactly right. I try to pay attention to the dialogue and subtitles at the same time, which couldn’t be more true. It’s a film of all accuracy, even if Alvy is a bit more witty than the average person (in a good way).
So yeah, when it comes to the mindset of couples, Annie Hall is perfect. It captures the awkwardness and fun of a relationship, and the sadness but not over-grief of break-ups (don’t worry, I didn’t spoil anything). Pretty much all of Alvy’s lines are perfect: “Just don’t take an English course where they make you read Beowulf.” And pretty much all of Annie’s lines are great as well (the story of her relative’s death is darkly funny). I recently watched Midnight in Paris, which I’d call Allen’s second best, right in front of Manhattan. Say what you will about his personal life, he truly is a master filmmaker. But of all of his work, I’d call Annie Hall his best. In fact, I’d call Annie Hall the greatest rom-com of all time. Yep, it’s that good.