Those streets of New York have never looked nicer, albeit tenser, than under Woody Allen’s gaze in Annie Hall. His proactive desire to copulate with each and every street of the Big Apple is stunning, disturbing and intriguing. Painting a picture of those delicate wonders and the dive bars whose opening hours are for night owls and lonely souls, Allen manages to escape it. Not through the integrity of characters bigger or better than them though, it is luck that shines a spotlight on them and drags them into the real world. The director-turned-star shoves audiences into the depths of New York, not to showcase the love he has for it implicitly but to join up his disdain for love with the ironic fixtures of his hometown.
A brief history through the rise and rise of New York is shown in those early moments. They are not the joys and growth of the city so much as of the protagonist and the eyes he has on the world around him. He is glum from an early age, and much of Alvy Singer (Allen) is just the creator of this feature projecting his own misery onto the screen. It is a love or hate relationship between the audience and creative. For those that find love in the self-deprecation, classical music cues and the “trouble between fantasy and reality,” as Alvy says, then they are rewarded with a touching story of working out why love doesn’t work. Annie Hall never figures that out. It is the best part of these performances, that two neurotics can fall in and out of love with each other and not realise they’re doomed.
There is more to Annie Hall than neurotics noting their hatred and love for one another. Mixed feelings about everything are encountered, with smart fourth-wall breaks and moments of contemporary knocks. Ingmar Bergman plants his flag in Allen’s mind once again, but so does celebrity culture, the political weight of a comedian’s word and the virility of relationships filled with arguments and new experiences. Tony Roberts plays a nice supporting role. He has no real impact on the relationship at the core of the film, but he lingers around like Carol Kane and Shelley Duvall, key figures in the lives of Alvy and Annie, yet completely irrelevant to their struggle and the solutions they find with one another. Paul Simon’s surprisingly decent performance is a handy tool too, one used to show the similarity between that aforementioned celebrity culture.
There is nothing technically inspired about Annie Hall, but it is the personal effect that gives it a gifted sense of perfection. Technical merits would crop up later in Manhattan and Zelig, which truly blend the romantic-comedy genre and flavour it with new techniques. Annie Hall is as personal and engaging as the person in the seat makes it out to be. Ordinary people falling in and out of love in the Big Apple. For those that romanticise the rat-ridden streets and the cold apartments, it will be perfect, and for those that don’t, they can seek solace in the fact that love doesn’t always win, especially when the protagonists aren’t fighting all that hard for it. Make no mistake, Alvy Singer gets what he deserves. His comeuppance is misery, but that is the end for all Allen characters, it is just bittersweet, swallowing the self-made pill that works so well for Annie Hall. A sting in an otherwise perfect tale.