As a New Year's resolution I've decided to work my way though Bill Hader's list of 200 movies every comedy writer should watch which I was introduced to in the very great book Poking a Dead Frog by Mike Sacks. I've decided to write reviews of these movies to stretch my writing muscles and to pretend like people care what I have to say on my little corner of the Internet.
The movie is called Annie Hall, but this is very much about Woody Allen's neuroses around women. This seemed as a good a place to start as it's considered the masterpiece of one of the most prolific comedian writer-directors of this era. I've watched the movie two weeks ago but I'm just getting to writing up my feelings about it now so It's less play by play and more general feeling working of my notes and foggy recollection.
Like with most of pop culture that happened before 2004, I'm super late to the Woody Allen party. In fact the first movie of his I actually saw was Midnight in Paris which was fun but not in a way that made me understand why a generation of film makers list him as an inspiration.
The first thing I noticed about the movie is that it didn't have the" Beatles Effect". I didn't really get introduced to The Beatles until college (queue mini-rant of me listing favorite Beatles songs to prove that I'm cool now). When I did get to hear them, I could appreciate that a lot of what they were doing was original at the time but I felt like I heard it done better by the bands that followed them. On the other hand, Annie Hall feels like it stands the test of time as a movie that should be watched by any budding movie buffs (although some references get real awkward given current allegations against Allen).
You can easily see the echoes of people that are inspired by it. The autobiographical fiction of Lena Dunham's Girls, Chris Rock's Top Five and of course Louis CK's FX Louie are the first that come to mind. Many sites like to talk about the current "Golden Era" of Television bringing us main characters that were not necessarily rooting for. While Allen's Alvy Singer is very much the main focus of his story but his neuroticism, judgements of Annie, and failures with the women in his life make it very clear that even he knows he's not going to be anyone's knight in shining armor. The film itself is the biggest critic of its main character.
The movie is a one stop shop of a lot of inventive scene types I've seen repeated in other places. The subtext/subtitled conversations, the realtime compare and contrast of his jewish family to Annie's WASPy brood (including a young Christopher Walken!), the split-screen therapist session, exaggerated childhood, even this Family Guy scene. There are entire shows based off of individual gags we see in this movie. If Allen didn't think of all these himself, I'd be really interested in hunting down the movies that originated them (leave them below in the comments if you know!). The myriad of styles that get thrown into this movie could easily be the outlined for a movie comedy 101 course.
As a budding stand up comedian myself, the few scenes of Alvy doing comedy really show Woody's singular style. Most standup comedians today show their control of the audience by using confidence and bravado, not the stammering and wandering eye contact he presents. I'm pretty sure he'd get eaten alive if he had to work his way up from the modern open mic scene (which probably says more about the current scene).
I can see why Louis CK and Chris Rock are drawn to Allen. He's found a way for them to talk about things they only hint at in their stand up but don't neatly fit into bits that make the audience laugh every 20 seconds. The movie let's Allen show the world what he thinks about love ( "we need the eggs" although I think this scene is more telling) without having to have a microphone in his hand and that's a sort of freedom for a comedian. The success of Annie Hall let's Louie CK show us what he thinks about not having a great relationship with your father, or getting yourself to believe in a goal.
My main criticism of the movie itself is that even though it mentions race, it's pretty much the same whitewashed version of New York and LA that Girls/Friends/Sex In the City is shot in. I loved the bit about the cleaning lady (although "colored" doesn't age well) and there's a great line about white women doing drugs because it makes them think they'll be like Billie Holiday. The lack of people of color (I count 3!) still works for me though because it unintentionally reinforces Allen's/Alvy's myopic view of the world.
It's going to be interesting to see how legacy of Woody Allen the man affects the legacy of Woody Allen the artist. While a lot of people have been willing to dump Bill Cosby the same doesn't seem to be true for Woody Allen, just having signed a deal to create a television show for Amazon. Of course there's a crap ton of differences between the two cases. But I think this movie adds enough to a potential movie makers toolbox to be worth watching.