Woody Allen appears onscreen, tweed jacket almost blending into the beige background, looking directly into the camera, and begins to speak: “There’s an old joke,” he says, “Um…two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ‘em says, ‘Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.’ The other one says, ‘Yeah, I know; and such small portions.’ Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life—[it is] full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.” With only this first utterance, we now know Allen’s character—Alvy Singer, the whiny, pessimistic, hyper-critical New Yorker—perhaps better than we ever wanted to. Yet we still don’t know him as well as we will by the end of Annie Hall’s 93 intensely personal minutes, which explore Alvy, Annie (Diane Keaton) and their relationship in intimate detail, omitting no quirks, imperfections, self-deprecating witticisms or heart-warming moments of affection.
The time seems to fly by as we are whisked from scene to scene, memory to memory, all blurring together into one gorgeously flawed portrait depicting a familiar yet unique scene. Like life—in Alvy’s view—Annie Hall is full of all sorts of troublesome and uncomfortable emotions, yet, in the end, we want more. Alvy’s quirks—as well as the distinctive techniques Allen employs to convey them—are exhibited from the film’s start; a few minutes in, we watch a third-grade Alvy get scolded for kissing his female classmate, while we listen to full-grown, present-day Alvy, sitting in class with his younger self, provide commentary: “I never had a latency period. I can’t help it.” Allen takes us directly into Alvy’s mind, showing his memories with current interpretation and allowing us to experience for ourselves the anxious man’s omnipresent contemplation in a very tangible way. The quirky humor of the scene is complimented by Allen’s unique performance; as he defends his younger self against the other grade-schoolers, he himself gives off an impression of childishness and innocence, blurring the line between past and present Alvy.
Annie is introduced shortly after, with a scene in the movie theater lobby that shows their unique and humorous—if slightly tense—brand of banter. When Annie pulls up in a taxi, Alvy instantly starts in on her: “Jesus, what’d you do, come by way of the Panama Canal?” Annie dishes it right back, however, after Alvy refuses to go into the movie because it has already started—only two minutes prior. Alvy: “I’ve gotta see a movie exactly from the start to the finish ‘cause, ‘cause I’m anal.” Annie: “That’s a polite word for what you are.” Annie mirrors many of Alvy’s traits; they have the same sense of humor and are both extremely self-critical, so they understand each other in a way that none of their other love interests have or will, as seen in a number of flashback scenes depicting relationships both before and in between their stints with each other.
At times, it seems as though they share a mind; they appear to speak a separate language from the rest of the world as Alvy subtly hints to Annie in one scene, about “the thing” they have to do, and she instantly picks it up. However, the scene directly following shows the connection between them wearing down; in separate sides of the split screen, they sit and speak to their respective therapists about sex—both of them stating that they do it about three times a week, yet Annie describes this rate as “constantly” and Alvy calls it “hardly ever.”
Shortly after this communication breakdown, the two leave for California. Annie falls in love with the place and thinks it will be “a drag” to leave, while Alvy is disenchanted with it and mentally stuck in New York; Annie wants to move forward and make a change, while Alvy is satisfied just flirting with new ideas, but he ultimately wants to end up where he is comfortable. And so the relationship comes to an impasse—it becomes, in Alvy’s words, a “dead shark.” They both sense it; even at the end of the relationship, it is as though they share thoughts. There is an undeniably palpable chemistry between the two, and it is shown through every moment they share together onscreen, both the good and the bad. Perhaps that is why it is so sad to watch them split up, to watch all of the scenes of their relationship flash by in an instant during the final moments of the film. As we follow them throughout the film, we see the imperfections and the awkward moments, and we are irritated at Alvy’s high-strung nature and Annie’s irrationality. But in the ending montage, it is all too easy to see every one of those details as endearing and to say that they only served to make the relationship more unique. As Alvy says in his last monologue, relationships are “totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd” but for some strange reason, we love and need them anyway.