Annie Hall is a 1977 American romantic comedy film directed by Woody Allen from a screenplay he co-wrote with Marshall Brickman. Produced by Allen’s manager, Charles H. Joffe, the film stars the director as Alvy “Max” Singer, who tries to figure out the reasons for the failure of his relationship with the film’s eponymous female lead, played by Diane Keaton in a role written specifically for her.
Principal photography for the film began on May 19, 1976 on the South Fork of Long Island, and filming continued periodically for the next ten months. Allen has described the result, which marked his first collaboration with cinematographer Gordon Willis, as “a major turning point”, in that unlike the farces and comedies that were his work to that point, it introduced a new level of seriousness. Academics have noted the contrast in the settings of New York City and Los Angeles, the stereotype of gender differences in sexuality, the presentation of Jewish identity, and the elements of psychoanalysis and modernism.
Annie Hall was screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival in March 1977, before its official release on April 20, 1977. The film received widespread critical acclaim, and along with winning the Academy Award for Best Picture, it received Oscars in three other categories: two for Allen (Best Director and, with Brickman, Best Original Screenplay), and Keaton for Best Actress. The film additionally won four BAFTA awards and a Golden Globe, the latter being awarded to Keaton. Its North American box office receipts of $38,251,425 are fourth-best in the director’s oeuvre when not adjusted for inflation. Often listed among the greatest film comedies, it ranks 31st on AFI’s list of the top feature films in American cinema, fourth on their list of top comedy films and number 28 on Bravo’s “100 Funniest Movies.” Film critic Roger Ebert called it “just about everyone’s favorite Woody Allen movie”. The film has been named the funniest screenplay by the Writers Guild of America in its list of the “101 Funniest Screenplays.”
The comedian Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) is trying to understand why his relationship with Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) ended a year ago. Growing up in New York, he vexed his mother with impossible questions about the emptiness of existence, but he was precocious about his innocent sexual curiosity.
Annie and Alvy, in a line for The Sorrow and the Pity, overhear another man deriding the work of Federico Fellini and Marshall McLuhan; McLuhan himself steps in at Alvy’s invitation to criticize the man’s comprehension. That night, Annie shows no interest in sex with Alvy. Instead, they discuss his first wife (Carol Kane), whose ardor gave him no pleasure. His second marriage was to a New York writer who didn’t like sports and was unable to reach orgasm.
With Annie, it is different. The two of them have fun making a meal of boiled lobster together. He teases her about the unusual men in her past. He met her playing tennis doubles with friends. Following the game, awkward small talk led her to offer him first a ride up town and then a glass of wine on her balcony. There, what seemed a mild exchange of trivial personal data is revealed in “mental subtitles” as an escalating flirtation. Their first date follows Annie’s singing audition for a night club (“It Had to be You“). He suggests they kiss first, to get it out of the way. After their lovemaking that night, Alvy is “a wreck”, while she relaxes with a joint.
Soon Annie admits she loves him, while he buys her books on death and says that his feelings for her are more than just love. When she moves in with him, things become very tense. Eventually, he finds her arm in arm with one of her college professors and the two begin to argue whether this is the “flexibility” they had discussed. They eventually break up, and he searches for the truth of relationships, asking strangers on the street about the nature of love, questioning his formative years, until he casts himself in Snow White opposite Annie’s Evil Queen.
Alvy returns to dating, but the effort is marred by neurosis, bad sex, and finally an interruption from Annie, who insists he come over immediately. It turns out she needs him to kill a spider. A reconciliation follows, coupled with a vow to stay together come what may. However, their separate discussions with their therapists make it evident there is an unspoken divide. When Alvy accepts an offer to present an award on television, they fly out to Los Angeles, with Alvy’s friend, Rob (Tony Roberts). However, on the return trip, they agree that their relationship is not working. After losing her to her record producer, Tony Lacey (Paul Simon), he unsuccessfully tries rekindling the flame with a marriage proposal. Back in New York, he stages a play of their relationship but changes the ending: now she accepts.
The last meeting for them is a wistful coda on New York’s Upper West Side, when they have both moved on to someone new. Alvy’s voice returns with a summation: love is essential, especially if it is neurotic. Annie sings “Seems Like Old Times” and the credits roll.
Several references in the film to Allen’s own life have invited speculation that it is autobiographical. Both Alvy and Allen were comedians. His birthday appears on the blackboard in a school scene; certain features of his childhood are found in Alvy Singer’s; Allen went to New York University and so did Alvy. Diane Keaton’s real surname is “Hall” and “Annie” was her nickname, and she and Allen were once romantically involved However, Allen is quick to dispel these suggestions. “The stuff that people insist is autobiographical is almost invariably not,” Allen said. “It’s so exaggerated that it’s virtually meaningless to the people upon whom these little nuances are based. People got it into their heads that Annie Hall was autobiographical, and I couldn’t convince them it wasn’t”. Contrary to various interviewers and commentators, he says, Alvy is not the character that is closest to himself; he identified more with the mother (Eve, played by Geraldine Page) in his next film, Interiors. Despite this, Keaton has stated that the relationship between Alvy and Annie was partly based on her relationship with the director.
The role of Annie Hall was written specifically for Keaton, who had worked with Allen on Play It Again, Sam (1972), Sleeper (1973) and Love and Death (1975). She considered the character an “affable version” of herself—both were “semi-articulate, dreamed of being a singer and suffered from insecurity”—and was surprised to win an Oscar for her performance. The film also marks the second film collaboration between Allen and Tony Roberts, their previous project being Play It Again, Sam.
Federico Fellini was Allen’s first choice to appear in the cinema lobby scene because his films were under discussion,but Allen chose cultural academic Marshall McLuhan after both Fellini and Luis Buñuel declined the cameo. Some cast members, Baxter claims, were aggrieved at Allen’s treatment of them. The director “acted coldly” towards McLuhan, who had to return from Canada for reshooting, and Mordecai Lawner, who played Alvy’s father, claimed that Allen never spoke to him. However, during the production, Allen began a two-year relationship with Stacey Nelkin, who appears in a single scene..
Allen saw the Coney Island Thunderbolt when scouting locations and wrote it into the script as Alvy’s childhood home.