(OLD REVIEW) This is the turning point for Woody Allen. Before, he wrote and directed some of the funniest movies ever made: Take the Money and Run, Bananas, Sleeper, and Love and Death. After, he was likely to do any sort of movie. I’m a big, big fan of the funny stuff (in Stardust Memories, Woody has aliens land and tell him “We’re big fans of your movies, especially your earlier, funnier stuff”). I happened to be at college in East Lansing, Michigan, when What’s Up, Tiger Lily? had its world premiere there, and I almost died laughing. So did everybody else in the audience.
But those movies are all jokes, like a Mel Brooks movie. Don’t get me wrong, I love movies like that, Airplane! is one of my favorites. But the addition of real characterization adds so many more dimensions, and allowed Woody to open up into different areas of comedy, as well as straight drama. The results since have been mixed. Before Annie Hall he was the bewildered nerd, delivering one-liners, taking pratfalls, spoofing everything in sight. Afterward, he was still the nerd, but with neuroses instead of pratfalls. It’s a character we’ve come to be a bit too familiar with, especially in his most recent movies, where it’s become an unpleasant cliché. I found his last few impossible to watch. But then he’ll come out with something like Deconstructing Harry, or Hannah and Her Sisters, or Radio Days or Crimes and Misdemeanors. I can only hope he’s still got a few more like that in him.
I was enraptured from the very first frames of Annie Hall, when Woody speaks directly to the audience. I am a fan of breaking the conventional mold of story-telling, if you can make it work, which is very hard. Woody uses every trick in the book here, walking up to strangers on the street to question them about his life, producing Marshall McLuhan himself at a theater to quiet an obnoxious blowhard, having people on split screens talk to each other, and my favorite, showing up as an adult in his old elementary school classroom to argue with his schoolmates, then have them stand and summarize their life stories since those days: “I used to be a heroin addict; now I’m a methadone addict.”
This was one of those once-in-a-lifetime roles for Diane Keaton, she created an entire look (or the costume designer did, but she sold it) and one of the most appealing screen characters I’ve ever met. She completely deserved her Oscar, and she had some stiff competition. The scene where she first talks to Woody after they are leaving the tennis court is just a joy to watch. Well, lah-di-dah!
I also have to hand it to Woody Allen, a man I don’t admire much as a person anymore, and whose talent may be on the wane. He is brutally honest here. As in most of his movies, he’s playing himself, and the portrait is of a very selfish man. The break-up of the best relationship he’ll ever have is clearly his own fault.
And even with all the sadness, the movie contains some wildly funny stuff, including one of the best sight gags in history involving a box full of powder cocaine.