Although Woody Allen describes this movie as "a romantic comedy about a contemporary urban neurotic," there is plenty of evidence it can be taken as an autobiographical peep into the zany humorist's own inner life. Again utilizing a cinematic technique of Ingmar Berman, he begins the film with a monologue in which he philosophizes about the loneliness and misery of life. A quote attributed to Groucho Marx "I would never want to belong to any club that would have me as a member" serves as a touchstone to the movie as a whole. It's an exploration of one paranoid fellow's tangled world of love and lust and loss.
Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) is a tense Brooklyn Jew whose father runs a bumper car concession on Coney Island. Young Alvy is a loner in a elementary school yet bold enough to kiss the little girl next to him. She rubs off the wetness with an exclamatory "eck!" that is just the beginning. Our hero continues to make the wrong moves with the opposite sex throughout his ilfe. Witness his two unsuccessful marriages: with Allison (Carol Kane), he's sexually inadequate; with Robin (Janet Margolin), she's sexually frigid. Pam (Shelly Duvall), a loony date, sums up his problem: "Sex with you is really a Kafkaesque experience."
For a while Alvy finds success as a comedian (we see several clips from performances) and dates Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), a daffy gal from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, who punctuates her sentences with the word "neat." He patronizes her with gift book on death and dying and eventually suggests she improve herself. That remark throws their relationship into a new dimension. She begins analysis and takes an adult education course. Through her sessions, Annie gains a new measure of self-confidence. At school, her instructor (Paul Simon) lures Annie to the West Coast after hearing her sing in New York. Alvy tries to win her back but it is all in vain; "You're like New York City an island to yourself. You can't enjoy life." In the end, the sad but wiser comedian uses his experiences with her as material for a play which incidentally turns their separation into a reconciliation. What is not easy in life happens naturally as art.
The comic level of Annie Hall is not as high or frantic as in Allen's Sleeper or Love and Death. But there are plenty of snappy one-liners, crazy sequences, and satirical zaps. Highlights include an awkward first encounter between the insecure Annie and the gauche Alvy; a scene where Alvy does battle with lobsters on the loose in a kitchen; and a verbal duel between Alvy and an intellectual while standing in line to see a movie. Allen has a good time poking fun at the contrast between Jewish and WASP families and the gap between New York and Los Angeles lifestyles.
Allen's skill as a director is especially evident in his ability to draw out Diane Keaton's comic best compare her sparkle humor here with the blandness of her performance in Harry and Walter Go To New York. Also featured in cameo roles are Tony Roberts, Colleen Dewhurst, and Christopher Walken. Annie Hall is a spiffy home movie on the archetypal romantic theme love hurts. Allen's unique comic vision gives the story some special zing and contemporaneity.