Though Annie Hall is a romantic comedy in many respects, it does not fit neatly into this genre. Though the film is indeed about a romantic relationship, and it is comedy, it also disregards several of the genre’s conventions, most notably through its lack of a happy ending. Though the protagonists’ relationship succeeds on many levels, it does not succeed in the traditional sense—it does not end in marriage. On the other hand, the film does end relatively happily, with only a tinge of sadness. Put simply, the film champions the notion that love fades. People drift apart, but that doesn’t mean that what they once had is any less powerful.
The film also pulls no punches in putting both Annie and Alvy’s flaws on full display. The confessional, revisionist tone of the narrative pulls us in so that we experience the impending implosion of the characters’ relationship as Alvy is remembering it. While Alvy’s anal-retentive, neurotic paranoia is endearing, it also becomes irritating to the point at which it’s hard to blame Annie for wanting to split. At the same time, Annie’s “la-dee-da” habit can be charming, but it becomes apparent why her descriptions of everything as “neat” irk the hyperarticulate Alvy. Although Annie Hall clearly contains splendid moments in which Annie and Alvy seem the ideal match, the film doesn’t airbrush out the flaws in the relationship. Instead, these flaws—Alvy’s domineering nature, Annie’s insecurities—are magnified as the film unfolds. Of course, the viewer knows from the start that the relationship will end and spends much of the film anticipating the breakup. Whereas most romantic comedies consist of a couple meeting and overcoming numerous obstacles before eventually realizing they are meant to be together till death do them part, Annie Hall comes at love from a different angle, following the storyline of one relationship’s bittersweet end.
An argument could be made that Annie Hall is less about love than it is about the unending loneliness of the human soul. Alvy’s relationship with Annie takes center stage, but the film skirts around his other failed couplings. Much of the narration deals with his sexual frustrations and failure to communicate effectively with women. He seems resigned to a life lived largely alone, with some brief periods in which he is in a monogamous, decently healthy relationship. Frustrated by his lack of success in love, he stops pedestrians in the streets of Manhattan to ask them the secret to a happy relationship. Their answers are telling: an elderly man suggests, bizarrely, a “large, vibrating egg,” and an attractive young couple explains that they’re both equally shallow, with “no ideas and nothing interesting to say.” The scene supports the idea that the success of relationships depends on factors that are largely arbitrary, and furthermore that most relationships ultimately are not successful. The last monologue in the film reiterates this notion, as Alvy concludes that relationships are “totally irrational and crazy and absurd and . . . but I guess we keep going through it because most of us need the eggs.” By “eggs” Alvy means all the rewards that come from a relationship, however absurd and troublesome that relationship may be. In focusing on the futility of relationships, Annie Hall dismantles many prevalent ideas of love, especially as glamorized and mythologized in typical romantic comedies.