June 23, 2004

Annie Hall (1977)
Grade: 79/100

"A relationship is like a shark... it has to constantly move forward, or it dies." In other words, no matter how good things may be now, it isn't enough, and progress toward the ideal must be measurable.

Woody Allen's character expects a great deal from his lover, Diane Keaton. Whey they make love, she must be committed, both body and soul, and without the aid of mind-relaxing drugs. She must read the books he recommends, must take the college courses he favors, but she can't become too chummy with the professors. He wants to shape her into a dedicated intellectual and physical companion, and cannot see her as the free spirit and dilettante that she really is.

It is interesting that Allen's character seeks intellectual stimulation from his girlfriends, when he seems to reject it from others. Take the pontificating windbag behind him in the movie line. Does he really have nothing worthwhile to contribute, or is he so completely wrong that he doesn't merit a single give and take conversation? If your own opinions are so intractable, how can you expect your life partner to agree with you without a complete intellectual surrender?

Allen's best friend in Annie Hall is a television actor and producer, Tony Roberts. Roberts' fully jaded approach toward his work provides further fuel for Allen's defeatist passion. How can you add a laugh track if it isn't funny? He doesn't want to hear the practical if dismal answer, that the audience won't know how funny it is without a laugh track to tell them. As with his relationships, Allen's ideals cannot be met in the real world.

This theme continues when Allen reveals that unlike most people, he didn't identify with the perfect but empty-headed Snow White. Instead, he wanted to date the Wicked Queen, whose angry passions aroused the reformer personality of Allen. Snow White would never read a book about death unless it had charming pictures, but perhaps the Wicked Queen could be talked into seeing The Sorry and The Pity, even if it is four hours long and subtitled.

But it would be wrong to condemn Allen's character as a fussy perfectionist. Another aspect is the search for humor. An encounter with a confused, obnoxious autograph seeker becomes an opportunity for stinging jabs about longshoremen with blue collar names. Live lobsters and large bathroom spiders are transformed by imagination into frightening monsters that must be vanquished to protect a loved one. Jealousy over Keaton's successful new boyfriend at least inspires a satirical award to Adolf Hitler for Best Fascist Dictator.

Woody Allen in California is like a fish out of water. The familiar cocoon of New York City gives him a place to be, if not necessarily someone with whom he can click. While he may disdain both the arts intellectuals and the working class illiterates who live there, his love for the city itself is uncontested.

Allen's character knows that his quest for the ideal relationship is quixotic. As is natural for a comedian, he uses a joke as an analogy. "My brother's crazy, he thinks he's a chicken." "Why don't you have him put away?" "I would, but I need the eggs." The nerve-wracking heartaches of romantic disappointments are more than compensated for by the warmth given by a relationship when it is paying off.