Woody Allen’s breakthrough movie: Annie Hall (1977)

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Woody Allen’s breakthrough movie: Annie Hall

Directed by Woody Allen / Screenplay by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman

Comedians are supposed to shtik to their lasts: Harpo could never speak and Groucho could never be at a loss for words; Fields could never seem to draw a sober breath or a sunny moral. What, then, is Woody Allen doing starring in, writing, and directing a ruefully romantic comedy that is at least as poignant as it is funny and may be the most autobiographical film ever made by a major comic?

Is he exercising an unexpected taste for self-destruction? Fecklessly proving his star’s clout to impose himself on us any way he wants to? The answer is no. What he is doing is growing, right before our eyes, and it is a fine sight to behold.

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Traditionalists need not worry. There are plenty of one-liners about the classic anti-hero’s copelessness in sexual and other matters as Allen dips once again into the comic capital that he has been living off of for years. It is, however, the best measure of this movie’s other strengths that even when these gags are very good, they often seem unnecessary and intrusive: mood busters.

What really interests Allen is the lady of the title and the relationship between her and a character called Alvy Singer. Alvy is a comedian whose style and career are not unlike those of Woody Allen, which is all to the good, since Allen plays him. Annie Hall is tall, blonde and pretty, at least superficially, not unlike Diane Keaton, who for a few years was Allen’s best pal in real life. This, too, is all to the good, since Annie is played by Keaton. It is not for the outsider to determine just how much these fictional figures resemble their real counterparts, but there is no doubt that this is a very personal film.

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