The last line in Annie Hall (1977) contains a joke that the main character and comedian Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) uses to describe relationships. By the way, if you are familiar with this movie, you will no doubt note the irony of starting my review in this manner. Anyway, to paraphrase, he compares our interactions with others to chickens. They are irrational and absurd, but we need the eggs. Something about this clicked with my Catholic heart. To be clear, the relationship between Alvy and the title character (Diane Keaton) is evidence of everything I believe to be wrong with so many aspects of modern culture, and yes, much of this is based on Church teaching. At the same time, there is something to that joke. Relationships are life giving, and the one we have with God should be the most affirming in this regard. Unfortunately, this truth is buried underneath all the muck and mire of our post-sexual revolution society. Despite these negative feelings, I enjoyed watching the movie.
Another factor that would typically be against Annie Hall for me is the non-linear manner in which the story is told. Alvy begins by talking about how he and Annie broke up. Thus, the whole movie is a flashback, with sub-flashbacks thrown in whenever it seems to suit. There is no discernible rhyme or reason to its order. It is simply a retelling of a relationship. We do begin with setting up Alvy’s neurotic attitude, which is a product of being brought under one of the roller coasters on Coney Island. While other nine-year-olds were interested in playing, Alvy (Jonathan Munk) worries that the expanding universe is going to eventually mean the end of existence. This leads to a nervous and paranoid adult version, obsessed with death and believing that he is about to be persecuted at any moment for being a Jew. For example, his first marriage to Allison Portchnik (Carol Kane) ends shortly after he is unable to make love because he cannot shake the feeling of a conspiracy behind the Kennedy assassination. He has a second marriage, but his social awkwardness forces him to be useless at parties, and she wants to move in intellectual circles, which he despises. He is explaining his foibles to his friend Rob (Tony Roberts) as they head to a tennis club. It is there that he finally meets Annie. As they are leaving, Annie shyly approaches him and eventually offers to give Alvy a ride home. There are some red flags right away, such as her admitting that her grandmother is an antisemite, but he goes along with it because she appears interested and engaging. For her part, as the conversation goes on, she feels that she might not be smart enough for him. There is a funny exchange where the words they are saying are being put on the screen as subtitles. What it amounts to is them wondering when they are going to have sex, essentially. They do, though another problem arises in this area of their relationship. As time goes on, she finds that she cannot relax without the use of marijuana. Given the bundle of nerves that he is, you might expect that he would also be willing to partake. To his credit, he declines, and it becomes a contentious subject between them. Oh, and remember her potential issue with her aptitude? Though he denies actually thinking she is dumb, he nonetheless encourages her to take college courses, and incredibly she agrees. There are some things that help keep the relationship at least approaching even keeled, such as his support for her music career. He also agrees to go meet her family in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, and endures her grandmother’s suspicious looks. Yet, they eventually split. The movie might not say it, but I will: this happens because they will not commit to each other. Still, they remain friends, but Alvy genuinely appears to be having a hard time on his own. Because of this, he immediately comes to her apartment in the wee hours of the morning to kill two spiders she finds in her bathroom. This act gets them back together for a time. Concurrently, Annie’s music career begins to blossom. After performing at a nightclub, she is approached by a producer named Tony Lacey (Paul Simon), who wants to sign her to a record deal. This means going to California, which is another thing that Alvy dreads. So consuming is his distaste for Los Angeles that he essentially has a nervous breakdown and misses an awards show at which he was supposed to present. Annie, on the other hand, loves Los Angeles. Hence, it comes as no surprise that on the flight back, they voice the thoughts that had been on their minds. They separate this time with good tidings, telling themselves that it is for the best and that they can remain friends. Once again, Alvy is depressed. After a little while, he goes back to Los Angeles where Annie has moved and tries to get her to marry him. She refuses. In response, he writes a play with this scene in it where it works out differently because art is the only place where we can approach perfection, as he claims. There is one last interaction between the two where they have lunch and catch up on old times. Alvy’s narration tells us of how it reminds him of how great is Annie. Even so, they part, and he tells the joke I mentioned at the beginning.
There is a great deal of disorder with the two main characters in Annie Hall. I almost hate using that word, but this is the kind of terrible influence modern society has had on me. Alvy and Annie do all the things modern couples are supposed to do, and yet they are dissatisfied. Granted, Alvy’s constant suspicions and Annie’s wide-eyed naiveté do not help matters. You can call me clichéd and square if you like (need I remind you that I am a practicing Catholic?) but the thing that is missing from their relationship is God. I will not talk about specific Catholic views on how couples should behave. Go read Theology of the Body if you need a refresher. Instead, what seems most prominent in the interactions between Alvy and Annie is their self-centeredness. They each worry about how the actions of the other reflect on them, rather than what is best for the other. To be fair, they are not complete monsters, and they do seem to occasionally enjoy each other’s company. However, the thing that is missing is a belief in a higher power. Since Christianity is my foundation, I will point out that loving God first and having that as a basis by which you love others is an easy way to help avoid these problems. Seeking His will can help you know whether someone is right for you in the first place before you give yourself the kind of heartache that Alvy clearly endures. Either way, he seems to really enjoy those eggs.
Between the non-linear plot and the obvious relationship mistakes, it is fair to ask how I could enjoy Annie Hall. True, there is a lot of objectionable material, but thankfully no nudity or vulgarity. What comes through most is the writing. It is written and directed by Woody Allen, and I find I like his writing the more I see of his work. It also makes Anything Else (2003) seem less original, but that is okay.