Monday, September 12, 2011
#197: Annie Hall
If you can make peace with the nomenclature of a genre called "serious comedy" and not see it as an oxymoron, you've a friend in Woody Allen. A clear departure from his early goofy comedies like Take the Money and Run and Love and Death , Annie Hall released in 1977 is till date acknowledged as the auteur's best work and is his first shot at this genre that I refer to as serious comedy. For this is where unlike this previous work, the hero would no longer be laughed at for his neurotic behavior, sexual clumsiness and oafish behavior. On the contrary, in Annie Hall, Woody not only sets an empathetic premise for such behavior by his protagonist very early in the movie but he also takes you on a very personal romantic journey of stand-up comic and comedy writer Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) and his relationship with Annie Hall (Diane Keaton).
I refer to Annie Hall as a serious comedy because you do get the best of both those genres in this one movie. It begins with the screenplay which is supposed to have shades of Woody Allen's own real life relationship with Diane Keaton- a speculation that Woody has more or less denied in the past. The stand out part of this non-linear script isn't so much about what the outcome of Allen-Keaton relationship in the movie would be but how are we going to get to that outcome which is bared to us in the very first couple of minutes by Alvy Singer. What seems a playful relationship isn't able to break the barriers of its own triviality and leads to a breakup. Alvy, who has been twice married before doesn't realize when his romantic liaison with Keaton become a friendly equation. And when that equation changes, it affects us because by that time we want this charming lady and her older talented writer boyfriend to work out things between them.
Both Allen and Keaton have never had it better in terms of chemistry. Their conversations, the banter, the teasing even their breakup has a touch of poetry to it. Not to mention the extremely fun screenplay and dialogues by Woody Allen. This is also one of Woody's few movies where he performs as a stand-up comic in the movie, something Woody started his career as in real life. Those parts might just've been a cakewalk for him to write and perform but as an audience, you are stupefied by the frequency and the wit of his comeback lines time and time again. Diane Keaton, won the Best Actress Oscar for her sharp performance even as Allen lost out in a stark similarity of real-life mirroring on-screen action. Tony Roberts makes yet another of those supporting appearances as Woody's successful TV actor friend who is a sucker for commercialization unlike Woody. The contrast in their character sketches makes their friendship even more unique, believable and immensely enjoyable. Woody does keep the best lines for himself because only he can deliver a line like 'Don't knock off masturbation... Its sex with someone I love...' with the most nonchalant attitude.
In the sweep of the romantic background of Alvy Singer's relationship with Annie Hall, it is quite possible to forget that Annie Hall is also a brilliant comedy. The comedy is not so much situational as conversational and it is so free flowing and abundant that even though Annie Hall is a tragic story it doesn't feel like one. It is rare that everything in a movie- from the sets to actors to the cinematography comes together to click in perfect unison (imagine Keaton designing her own clothes for the movie and the style going on to become a rage of New York in the late-70s). Annie Hall is that rare masterpiece, the Kohinoor of Allen's jewels and the Mona Lisa of romantic comedies.
Confession: I saw Annie Hall for the fourth time today and for the first time felt like it was better than Manhattan. The Manhattan review I had written in August says Manhattan was better than Annie Hall. As of now I am eating humble pie for that definitive claim in September. (Incidentally, also another Woody movie reviewed on this blog.)
Contrived Coincidence: Review #197 is a 1977 movie. A little bit by design, a little by accident.