Annie Hall 40 Years Later: How the Rom-Com Redefined Gender Stereotypes

By Matthew Martino 

With a career that has spanned over sixty years, there is no denying that Woody Allen is one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. April 20th marked the 40th anniversary of arguably his best work, Annie Hall. Aside from winning 4 Oscars and setting the standard for the romantic-comedy genre as we know it today, the film also redefined what it means to be a leading man or woman in Hollywood.

Perfectly blending humour and heartbreak, Annie Hall follows main character Alvy Singer (Allen), a stand-up comedian, and his tumultuous relationship with Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). Allen is by no means a traditional leading man, and his character in this film (like almost all his films) undermines sexual difference. Much like Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp, Allen has created a signature persona that he portrays in nearly all of his films. His characters usually work in the entertainment industry (but despise the business), live in Manhattan and are hopelessly romantic. In addition, Allen’s characters have also come to be known as neurotic and as outsiders. Therefore, the very image that he has built his career around challenges many of the traditional male qualities that are reinforced in film and pop culture.

Annie Hall is no exception to this persona. Alvy is a far cry from the traditional ultra-masculine leading men that audiences have come to associate with Hollywood pictures (Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, John Travolta in Grease, not to mention every single superhero in the Marvel and DC universe). For example, when Annie calls Alvy to kill a spider in her bathroom in the middle of the night, he attempts to reassure her by saying, “I’ve been killing spiders since I was thirty,” but then soon realizes that the spider is “the size of a Buick” and must use a tennis racket to awkwardly squash the insect.

Moreover, Allen’s character is not afraid to talk about his feelings. Alvy openly speaks about the fact that he has been visiting his therapist for fifteen years and encourages Annie to see one as well. This contradicts the mainstream belief (one that still somewhat exists to this day) that men should refrain from revealing their emotions. Leading men in films are often portrayed as level-headed, confident and assertive, whereas female characters are the ones who are neurotic and emotionally unstable. Allen flips this gender stereotype in Annie Hall, making Alvy incredibly insecure and anxious. Keaton’s character on the other hand, is likeable and charming throughout the entire film (albeit awkward and silly as well), while Alvy’s antics become somewhat irritating as the story progresses.

The character of Annie Hall challenges gender stereotypes as well. In the very first scene that the two lovers meet, she is dressed in stereotypical male clothing, wearing a tie, vest and slacks. The rest of her wardrobe throughout the film is likewise fairly androgynous; she is never seen in a short dress or a tight skirt as most leading ladies are (i.e. Marilyn Monroe). Annie Hall is an intellectual and not reduced to a sexual object. Furthermore, her decision towards the end of the film to leave New York City for California in order to pursue her music career demonstrates that she is ambitious and goal-oriented, characteristics normally associated with men.

Perhaps Annie Hall’s greatest achievement however, is being able to keep audiences laughing for 40 years, while still being one of the most authentic depictions of love and relationships to ever grace the big screen.

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