‘Annie Hall’ At 40 & The Romance Of Breaking Up

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40 years ago, Annie Hall, perhaps Woody Allen‘s finest film, was released to critical acclaim and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. This untraditional, truly funny romantic comedy is a meditation on the failure of a relationship between the eponymous Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) and Alvy “Max” Singer (Allen), a neurotic comedian, and the ups and downs of their courtship. The couple falls in love, breaks up, reconciles, and splits again, and they eventually realize that it’s never going to work. After an acknowledgment of all they’ve shared, they go their separate ways. Their lives don’t end, they aren’t miserable; they’re moving on with other people, and that’s okay. They had their time together.

At the time of its release, this formula was not completely unheard of, as classic films like Casablanca and Gone with the Wind had concluded without the couples together, but the painful, occasionally funny, reflective sequences about the relationship as a whole offered an entirely fresh take on the romance film. A couple doesn’t have to find a happy ending with each other for a film to be romantic; their time spent together is not invalidated upon splitting. Annie Hall breathed life into the notion that everyone doesn’t have to end up together – love is essential, love is imperfect, and love is messy.

Endings like this are generally more prominent in indie films as of late; (500) Days of SummerLike Crazy, and Blue Valentine are prime examples of that. When one of the biggest films of last year did it, however, it definitely made waves – and proved that audiences do not have to be spoon-fed a perfect ending to appreciate a romantic film. The sweeping, beautiful La La Land concluded with all but a knowing glance between our two romantic leads after imagining what a perfect relationship would have looked like, and them film was better for it. Much like Annie Hall might have been forgotten had it wrapped things up neatly with a bow, La La Land may not have been nearly as impactful had Mia and Sebastian disappeared into the sunset together. Even director Damien Chazelle, who won an Oscar for his work on the film, echoed this sentiment: “Real life doesn’t always live up to the dreams in the movies, but that, in a way, is a great subject for a movie… I find movies where the lovers wind up not together more romantic. When they wind up together, it’s like you don’t know what’s going to happen after the movie… but these two will always be a perfect pair for me.”

Annie Hall fully leans into the idea that separation can be the most romantic thing you do, and is perhaps, in part, the reason why flicks like La La Land are sweeping awards shows nowadays. There is a beauty in having shared a certain amount of time together, whether or not it crashed and burned in the end. A happy ending does not require characters to still be in love; every story told does not demand a massive declaration. The romance of breaking up is one of the most honest tales Hollywood has to tell, and the last forty years has produced some stunning iterations of it. Annie Hall holds up because it’s flawed, heartfelt, funny, and sad –  just like romance is. The film’s acknowledgment of the oft-temporary nature of love is exactly why it’s Allen’s best work, and why so many other films seek to emulate it after all this time.

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