Study Guide

Annie Hall Screenwriter

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Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman

From Groucho Marx to speaking shellfish, Annie Hall's smart script is endlessly quotable. Its screenwriters, Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman, both started out as television writers for shows like Candid Camera and The Tonight Show—Allen in the '50s and '60s, and Brickman in the '60s—and that's how they met.

Film-wise, they first worked together on another Allen joint, 1973's Sleeper. Annie Hall was their second collaboration, and it ended up nabbing them an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Not a bad creative batting average, if you ask us.

Playing Fast and Loose

The playful, loose script for Annie Hall ain't your average narrative. Flashbacks are plentiful, characters from the present interact with their past selves, random people on the street comment on the action, and Alvy not only breaks the fourth wall repeatedly, but turns into a cartoon.

"This setup breaks down ordinary movie barriers, [and] tells us that just about anything in the movie is possible," explains Combustible Celluloid's Jeffrey M. Anderson (source). Here's the thing, though: Allen and Brickman's script may go crazy with storytelling conventions, but it's a sophisticated brand of crazy that reflects the way we actually process relationships.

Big-Brained Comedy

It's also super-smart and stuffed with cultural references, none of which are dumb-downed for the Average Joe or Jane Moviegoer. Allen and Brickman "create a whirlwind of post-modern pop culture homages," notes The Film Spectrum's Jason Fraley, "referencing Keaton's own work in The Godfather (1972) and featuring famous cameos, including Truman Capote as the 'winner of the Truman Capote lookalike contest,' and film scholar Marshall MacLuhan [sic], who arrives from off-screen to settle a debate between Allen and a pretentious theater goer […]" (source).

Allen and Brickman don't worry about these allusions going over the audience's heads; they just let 'em fly.

As Roger Ebert notes in his Great Movies review, Annie Hall's script doesn't trade in catchphrases like movies of today; it's fueled by ideas (source). Maybe that's why the Writers Guild of America ranks it as the sixth greatest screenplay of all time.

My Movie, Myself

So where did all of those great ideas and urbane one-liners come from? Annie Hall is ripped from the headlines of Allen's own life like a romantic comedy version of Law & Order. Allen, just like Alvy, is a neurotic, Jewish, Brooklyn-born stand-up comedian. He even dated Diane Keaton, a.k.a. Annie Hall, in real life.

When asked about the similarities between Annie Hall's script and Allen's real life, Allen explained: "Details are picked from life. I'm a comedian. Diane sings, and I'm friends with Tony Roberts [Rob], and almost everybody I know has moved out to California" (source). It's like your English teacher always said: Write what you know.

And who knows? Maybe you'll snag yourself a shiny golden Oscar someday, too.

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