'Annie Hall': THR's 1977 Review

Annie Hall - H - 1977
Diane Keaton has to be the consummate actress of our generation.

On April 20, 1977, United Artists brought Annie Hall, directed by Woody Allen and starring Diane Keaton, to theaters. The film went on to win four Oscars at the 50th Academy Awards, including best picture. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below.

Annie Hall is one of those movies that audiences are either going to love or hate. There can be no middle ground. Woody Allen fans will buy it 100%. Never before has the diminutive comedian been so urbane, so open — so funny. And with lovely Diane Keaton as consort, it becomes well-nigh irresistible (especially if you find Keaton as well-nigh irresistible as I do). In addition, Gordon Willis gives every shot a classical — and classy — look. It's as if Vermeer were painting in Brooklyn and Manhattan's East 60s, and Manet was called in to touch up Los Angeles.

On the other hand, I can imagine that more than a few might find this New Yorker-ish recital of love and renunciation beyond them, an arcane tale with more fizzle than fizz. Even though I loved the whole thing, I was aware that Allen's comic muse had long since departed before the film was two-thirds over. I hated to admit it, even to myself; but a fact is a fact. The last half hour is more concerned with getting out of the story than getting into the laughs. And while it was peachy keen of Allen to share the last few minutes of his picture with Keaton, his story was over when the girl decides to shack up with rock producer Paul Simon out in Los Angeles, not when he tries (ineffectually) to win her back. 

It's hard not to think of this film as autobiographical. Indeed, it often has the feel of a professionally produced home movie blown up. When Keaton asks Allen to retrieve some lobsters from the floor of their Cape Cod hideaway, the spontaneity of the scene is overwhelming, like a private joke that the two are sharing with us. And Keaton's first stint in a nightclub, with phones ringing, waiters dropping dishes and a microphone that adds its own whining obbligato  — this, too, has to be a remembrance of things past (especially since we know that Keaton has made it modestly in the boites). 

There is also a scene from a play within the film in which Allen, after having been kissed off by Keaton, concocts a poetic reconciliation (although only in what he shrugs off as his "first play"). It's such a good feeling that one wishes it could be true. But in an opening monologue, Allen recalls the joke — attributable to both Groucho Marx and Sigmund Freud — to the effect that "any club that would accept me as a member, I wouldn't want to belong to." Which seems to be his whole trouble with women. Any woman who would accept him as a partner has to be trouble — and he has two broken marriages to prove it. 

Keaton, the "Annie Hall" of the title, doesn't become wife number three. They shack up together. They visit their wholly incompatible families (her grandmother is a rabid anti-Semite; his parents are too Semite to know there's a war on). She begins to blossom as a nightclub and recording artist, which takes her to Los Angeles, where, according to Allen, "they don't throw their garbage away. They make it into TV shows." A dedicated New Yorker, he makes one faint-hearted attempt to woo her back. It doesn't succeed, and we are left with a rather bizarre concept of males continuing to besiege females because "we need the eggs." With eggs at only 69 cents a dozen?

It's a marvelously quirky film, with not quite something for everybody. Allen wanders into hysterical man-in-the-street interviews, like television at its worst. Standing on line for admission to a Bergman movie at a New York theater, he undergoes torture as a self-acknowledged pedant delivers himself on the failures of Fellini and the finer meaning of Marshall McLuhan — at which point Allen draws McLuhan from behind a poster in the lobby and McLuhan denies the whole thing. "Why can't this happen in real life?" asks Allen. 

The best thing about Annie Hall is that so little of it could happen in real life, yet so much of it does. Our feelings are constantly divided. Diane Keaton is obviously no more right for (or wrong for) Allen than Shelly Duvall or Janet Margolin or Carol Kane. Why he wants her more than any of these other availables is never really explicated in the plot. But there she is, with her tiny, shy voice, singing "Seems Like Old Times," and who could resist her? There she is, trying hopelessly to get an education from the books on death that Allen keeps giving her, or signing up for a course on contemporary literary trends — and her teacher can resist her, either. 

Neither can I. If Allen brings his own oddball intellectual humor to Annie Hall — which makes me collapse — Keaton adds the charm and warmth and spontaneity that makes it all plausible. I keep remembering that, after having appeared on stage opposite Allen a couple of hundred times in Play It Again, Sam, she still managed in the film adaptation to look as if she were hearing the lines for the first time. Diane Keaton has to be the consummate actress of our generation. — Arthur Knight, originally published on April 6, 1977