I have always been vocal about my thoughts about Diane Keaton’s iconic Oscar-winning turn as Annie Hall – to me, she is my second favourite best actress winner after Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire (And yes, I have watched Sophie’s Choice/Gone With The Wind etc.). Nonetheless, re-watching Annie Hall as a part of my personal project to watch all of the 70s best picture nominated films made me nervous – what if the performance didn’t impress me as much as before? I certainly hate the feeling of disappointment.
Before I go into Keaton’s performance, I thought I’ll be frank and just say that Annie Hall is a film I respect more than enjoy. I can respect why so many consider it as one of their favourites of all time – it is a fresh, original and unique love story, even by today’s standards. The two leads aren’t particularly attractive, there isn’t any heartbreaking melodrama, and it is told entirely from the perspective of the neurotic male lead, which leads to some truly interesting scenes where the characters break the fourth wall, or when they literally visit the past. That being said, despite the strangeness of the film, there’s a realism to this film that allows it to reach out to the viewers, effectively conveying its message about love fading. There’s no cancer, no car accidents, no deaths, no poverty, no evil in-laws in this story – it’s all about people, how they change and how their perspectives of life change, including love. This is one aspect of the film which I truly respect – it takes this simple reality of life and tells it in a unique, refreshing manner.
And yet, my main issue about the film lies with its master itself. First of all, I never let my personal opinion of an artist affect my opinion of his work (Polanski), but the fact remains that I find Woody Allen a real creep, and unfortunately, it really shows in his work. It’s not as bad here as in some of his other films where the self-indulgence is unbearable, but the neurotic ramblings of Alvy Singer, who is essentially Allen with a different name, was really plain annoying at times. Yes, yes, I do see the layers in his performance, and I do like the self-deprecating touch in his work (then again, maybe not since the character is so full of himself), but I really felt a bit grossed out whenever I see him and Annie Hall kissing and about to have sex. For the most part, Keaton’s brilliant performance saved this as she really sold their romance and brought about the necessary sweetness and love needed to portray their relationship. Look, I totally understand that my judgement here is flawed and biased, but whenever I see Allen on screen having sex with different women (not the actual act, thank goodness), it really turns me off. Sorry about that, don’t want to offend the fans.
Nonetheless, it is Diane Keaton who makes the film. She is this film, she is the heart of the film, and thankfully, instead of disappointment, I found my respect for this performance tripling after this re-visit (though still not enough to usurp Vivien Leigh as personal favourite). She’s just so damn good and frankly, I don’t think anyone can ever pull off such a character as well as she did. I mean, I don’t think any of the modern actresses like Emma Stone (whom I really like btw) nowadays can pull off what she did here. Her performance is just so damn real, layered and relatable. I daresay that her performance is one of the most accurate portrayals of the nervousness, the awkwardness, the constant self-exploration and discovery that we all go through. Watching Annie find her true passion and calling in life was such a relatable experience, and as I always say, a performance that can make a line like “la-dee-da” sound so natural is a damn good one.
Still, I have not much negative thoughts for Annie Hall. I can even respect the best picture and best director win because it is a unique film that succeeds in what it sets out to do. While not my favourite, I totally understand where the love is coming from. That being said, Diane saves this film for me, and hence, I am willing to give it a 4.
p.s. I told you I haven’t gave up on this, I’m just taking forever.