When it comes to girlfriends in romantic comedies, Annie Hall is one of the nuttiest. From her slick menswear ensembles to her "la-di-da" catchphrase, she's also one of the most original and instantly recognizable. But don't get it twisted: She's not all Windsor knots and folksy Chippewa Falls wisdom; she's also a kind, genuine woman with big dreams and an even bigger heart. Maybe that's why she wears all those vests.
Nuttier Than a Fruitcake
In a word, Annie is crazy. Not in a broad, straight-jacketed, cartoon way. She's flaky, flighty, and utterly nutty. Take her first meeting with Alvy, for example. After tennis, they go back to her place for a glass of wine. Her apartment looks like a tornado has just rifled through it, and then, in her rambling way, she tells Alvy a thoroughly weird story about her dead, narcoleptic great-uncle. For an encore, she riffs on her grandmother's deep anti-Semitism. Not exactly the stuff first date dreams (especially with a Jewish dude) are made of.
Still, Annie's a charmer. She may be scatterbrained, but she's warm, self-effacing, and, as flashbacks reveal, totally different from Alvy's two ex-wives. As her subtitled inner thoughts reveal later in her and Alvy's first meeting up on the rooftop, Annie's also shy, insecure, and just as messed up as Alvy. At least initially, they're two peas in an anxious pod.
While Alvy's neuroses are all over the map, Annie's are more focused. First, she's nervous in the bedroom, as evidenced by her need for a joint every time she and Alvy are intimate. Second, she's insecure about her intelligence… which isn't helped by the fact that Alvy essentially assigns her reading. He buys her a bunch of hefty books with which to improve her mind:
ANNIE: You only gave me books with the word "death" in the title.
Her continuing education is a repeated spike of conflict between Annie and Alvy. At first, he's all about it. Later, when she starts getting stoked about her coursework and professors, he's against it. And all the while, Annie fears that Alvy doesn't think she's smart enough for him. Gee, with all of those mixed signals, we wonder why.
So what's the difference between Annie and Alvy? Ambition. "As Annie's singing and talent improves," writes film critic Tim Dirks, "so does her confidence, personal strength, and independence. She ultimately becomes less self-conscious and less self-effacing." Put another way, as Annie's singing career takes off, she starts to leave Alvy in the dust. Not intentionally, of course. She just outgrows him—and his books about death.
One way to chart her growth is to compare her nightclub performances. The first time we see her sing, we're in the cheap seats. There's a pole in the way. The phone's ringing, people are talking over her, and she looks unsure of herself and her talent. She needs Alvy's reassurance afterward that she didn't stink up the joint, and that's just the way he likes it.
When we see her sing again, later in the movie, we meet an entirely different Annie. She's dressed well, she's loose and relaxed, and she's literally let her hair down. Annie appears poised, like a seasoned professional, and has the makings of a star. The nightclub audience recognizes it. Tony Lacey recognizes it. Alvy? Not so much. "As this scene continues into their conversation at the club's bar," notes Jason Fraley of The Film Spectrum, "Alvy is backdropped by empty darkness and Annie is backed by people and lights, showing his resistance of new experience and her welcoming of it."
In short, when we glimpse the new-and-improved Annie 2.0 coolly crooning "Seems Like Old Times" before a rapt audience, it signals the beginning of the end for their relationship like a high "C."
But we know that Annie still has affection for crusty ol' Alvy… she just doesn't love him the way she used to—perhaps because she's gotten a serious confidence boost:
ANNIE: I mean, you know how wonderful you are. I mean, you know—you're the reason that I got out of my room, and that I was able to sing, and, and, and, you know, get more in touch with my feelings and all that crap.
Alvy was definitely a good influence on Annie. But even though he approached Annie as though she was an old house—he figured he was investing in a fixer-upper—he didn't realize what would happen when he "fixed her up." She would realize that she didn't want such a Gloomy Gus anymore.
Throw Your Hands Up At Me
Alvy may complete his quest and solve the mystery of why he and Annie broke up, but Annie's the character who grows the most in the movie. She's the one who welcomes change. When Alvy flies to Los Angeles to bring her back to New York, it's no wonder she doesn't want to return to her old, static life under Alvy's thumb:
ALVY: So, you want to get married or what?
ANNIE: No. We're friends. I want to remain friends.
ALVY: Okay. Check please!
She's evolved into a confident performer, who's secure in her talents and eager to experience what's next. Like Destiny's Child circa 2000, she's become an independent woman. Alvy's neuroses and need for control? Ain't nobody got time for that, least of all Annie Hall.