Given how many weak movies make a lot of money and garner a pile of laurels, it is particularly satisfying when justice is done and a magnificent film is a hit both with audiences and critics. So it was with 1977’s Best Picture Oscar winner Annie Hall.
The plot is straightforward. A neurotic Jewish comedian from Brooklyn who is a lot like Woody Allen falls in love with a kooky, lovely, endearing Wisconsin girl who is a lot like Diane Keaton. He educates her about his hang-ups, psychoanalysis, death, and ethnic baggage. She educates him about how to lighten up and enjoy life. But it doesn’t last. And then it is on again. And then it is off again. And along the way the audience laughs very hard many, many times. As in Shakespeare plays, there isn’t much new here story-wise, but the execution is an inspiration.
Director/Star Woody Allen was at the time known as a sharp stand-up comedian and a maker of funny, lightweight movies (e.g., Take the Money and Run). No one but Woody knew that he also had the ability to make extremely personal, affecting films with strong dramatic moments combined with his trademark hilarity. This movie launched a new phase of his career which has produced many artistic triumphs.
And as for Keaton, I once quoted former Stanford University President Gerhard Casper saying that “falling in love with Audrey Hepburn was an essential, civilizing experience for all human beings“. For a subsequent generation, the same could have been said of Diane Keaton. Men wanted to take care of her and women wanted to dress like her and a have a cool New York apartment like her. Allen puts incredible faith in Keaton, letting the camera roll and roll as she is alone on screen in several key scenes, and she delivers every time.
I can’t close without posting one of the most famous bits from the film (it ruins nothing of the story), which highlights Allen’s endearingly hostile wit, his chronic and effective breaking of the fourth wall, and his on screen chemistry with his amazing co-star.