Annie Hall’s story unfolds out of chronological order, with events connected to one another by phrases or images rather than cause-and-effect relationships. This jumpiness makes sense within the film, however, as the story is told in retrospect, with Alvy, as the narrator, attempting to make sense of his relationship with Annie within the context of his entire life.
Annie Hall begins with Alvy speaking directly to the camera. He delivers a few key jokes that humorously set up his pessimistic view of life and then adopts a more serious tone as he begins to confront the truth about his relationship with Annie. The question of why the relationship ended is the central question of the film. To find the answer, Alvy looks within himself, and the film flashes back to his visit to a doctor at the age of nine. Alvy is depressed because, as he explains, the universe is expanding and will one day explode. The doctor tells him to enjoy life while he can. The adult Alvy then turns to the schoolroom, where he defends his younger self for kissing one of his female classmates. The story flashes forward to a year or two before the present, when Alvy is heavily involved with Annie, an aspiring singer, who shows up unapologetically late for their movie date.
In line at the theater, the couple bickers: Alvy complains about the obnoxious loudmouth behind him; Annie, about missing her therapy session. After the film, Annie and Alvy go to bed. Uninterested in sex, Annie brings up Alvy’s first wife. The film flashes back to Alvy’s first encounter with Allison at a fundraiser, and to their sexual problems when married, then returns to a point in time when Annie and Alvy are more fully enjoying each other’s company. In a famous scene, Annie and Alvy laugh as they clumsily try to cook some lobsters at a house in the Hamptons. The film flashes back to Annie’s previous romantic relationships, with Annie and Alvy physically present in some scenes to provide commentary. Then, the film veers off to examine Alvy’s second marriage, to a New York intellectual with whom he is unable to have successful sex. Then, it jumps forward to Alvy’s first meeting with Annie on the tennis court. After the game, Annie makes awkward small talk with Alvy and offers him a ride home.
Alvy accepts the ride and then accepts Annie’s invitation to go up to her apartment, where they drink wine and talk about Annie’s books and family members. On the balcony, subtitles express what each is really thinking throughout their nervous chatter. Alvy asks Annie out and ends up going with her to a nightclub audition, where she sings tentatively to a restless audience. On their way to get dinner, Alvy spontaneously kisses Annie to “get it over with.” The next scene is in the bedroom, after they have just finished making love for the first time. Alvy is a mess; Annie smokes pot to relax. The next scene has them at a bookstore, where Alvy buys Annie two books about death in order to school her on his pessimism. Vignettes follow in which Alvy woos Annie in Central Park and Annie stutters her love for him on a waterfront dock. These brief moments of heady romance end with an argumentative scene.
The rest of the film focuses on the relationship’s impending breakup. Alvy wants Annie to have sex without marijuana, but she is so distant he gives up. Alvy travels with Annie to her family home in Wisconsin, where he feels alienated by her WASP family and “classic Jew hater” grandmother. Alvy conjures up an imaginary conversation between his family and Annie’s, and the film screen splits to illustrate the contrast between the two worlds. Back in New York, Alvy encounters Annie on the street. Annie accuses him of spying on her, and a heated argument ensues. Searching for the secret to a successful relationship, Alvy questions pedestrians on the street. He is left without a solution and blames his failures on his problems in early life, saying he always falls for the wrong women. In an animated scene, Annie is transformed into the evil queen in Snow White and Alvy is portrayed as small and childish. A cartoon version of Alvy’s friend Rob enters, saying he has a new girl for Alvy.
Some time after splitting up with Annie, Alvy tries dating again. He goes out with Pam, an odd, skinny Rolling Stone reporter who describes things as “transplendent.” They have bad sex and are interrupted afterward by a phone call from Annie. Alvy goes over to Annie’s apartment to find a frazzled Annie, who asks him to kill a spider, then cries about missing him. They reconcile and vow never to break up again.
By this time, Annie’s singing talent has significantly improved, and music producer Tony Lacey approaches her at her next gig. In another split-screen scene, Alvy and Annie talk to their respective therapists about their sexual problems. According to Annie, they “constantly” sleep together; Alvy says “hardly ever.” After an expensive mishap with cocaine, Alvy and Annie fly out to Los Angeles, where they meet up with Rob and attend a party at Tony Lacey’s house in Hollywood. On the flight home, Annie and Alvy decide their relationship is a “dead shark” and no longer works. They split up.
Alvy dates other women with no luck. Lonely and unhappy, he decides to get Annie back and flies out to L.A., where she is living with Tony Lacey. He asks her to marry him. She declines. In the next scene, Alvy is directing a rehearsal of his first play, which dramatizes his relationship with Annie but gives it his ideal ending, with Annie leaving L.A. for Alvy. Turning to the camera and shrugging, Alvy dismisses his revision as no big deal: “You’re always trying to get things to come out perfect in art because it’s real difficult in life.” Alvy and Annie meet once more when they are both dating other people. In brief snapshots, the film flashes back to happier times between Annie and Alvy, summing up his memories and memorializing their relationship. In a brief, distant shot, they are seen shaking hands and parting, Alvy with his head down. Alvy gives a last voiceover about relationships, concluding that they are absurd and futile but ultimately necessary. Annie’s song, “Seems Like Old Times,” swells up as the credits roll.