A sprawling screenplay that at one point included a murder mystery, a romantic subplot and heady ruminations on aging; a lengthy ten-month shoot with a number of script-deviating improvisations; a two-hours-plus first cut that marginalized the character who would eventually become the film’s heart and soul. By all rights, Annie Hall (working title, Anhedonia—the inability to experience pleasure) should have been a disaster. Yet Woody Allen’s sublime comic drama, the story of a fracturing love affair between just-turned-40 comic Alvy Singer (Allen) and his la-dee-dah gal pal Annie (Diane Keaton), was a massive critical and commercial success, even trouncing that box-office behemoth Star Wars at the Academy Awards.
Many viewers can quote the movie chapter and verse, from lead actor (“Don’t knock masturbation. It’s sex with someone I love”) to bit player (“Hello? I forgot my mantra”—hey there, Jeff Goldblum). So take the occasion of Film Forum’s rerelease, new 35mm print and all, to bask in the tricky balance of hilarity and melancholy. As the story toggles between punch lines involving Marshall McLuhan and The Sorrow and the Pity and gut punches like Annie’s heartrending rendition of “Seems Like Old Times” or some half-recalled joke about eggs, you delight in the seeming effortlessness of a movie born out of turmoil. This is the link between Allen’s “earlier, funnier” stuff and more probing works like Interiors and Manhattan. Would that we all could build such masterful bridges.
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