Lurve You? Or Loathe You?

Actor, writer and director Woody Allen as Alvy Singer and actress Diane Keaton as Annie Hall in the film 'Annie Hall', 1977. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Okay, I’m making a promise to myself to stop reading (and writing about) Woody Allen think pieces — please feel free to hold me to it.

But first let me just point you to “Unlearning Woody Allen,” a smart piece of cultural criticism by David Klion, published by Jewish Currents.

I’m at the depression stage in my grief over Allen as a source of thoughtful entertainment, having a hard time shifting toward acceptance. It’s been hard to let go of the ideas, particularly about relationships, that I picked up from Allen’s films. For example, until recently, I’d still occasionally say to my husband, “I lurve you, I loave you, I luff you,” referencing a line Allen’s Alvy Singer character says to Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall — a comment on the word “love” being insufficient to capture his feelings for her.

But Klion’s essay helps me see something I hadn’t before. He breaks down Woody Allen’s influence on the culture, romantic comedies (and Klion himself) in a way that shows the messages about love put forth in classic Allen movies like Annie Hall and Manhattan are very mixed, and carried forward by others in ways that aren’t so romantic after all.

Even if you’ve never seen Annie Hall, you’ve seen its legacy. You’ve seen Harry mansplain relationships to Sally. You’ve seen the toxic relationship of neurotic Ross and ditzy Rachel held up as a romantic ideal worth rooting for and emulating. You’ve seen Ray (Alex Karpovsky) on Girls in his 30s dating a succession of women in their 20s, passing off his insecurity over a stalled career as some kind of wisdom. You’ve seen Louis CK, who openly worships Allen, monologue about the awkwardness of being a middle-aged man, and then you’ve read about what he subjects women to behind closed doors. You’ve seen Aziz Ansari as the performatively woke smartass comedian who “gets” women in hipster Brooklyn on Master of None, and very likely you’ve read about what his actual dating life is like.

If Allen’s legacy extends through decades of popular culture, it also extends to the consumers of that culture, and to what both men and women in certain social milieus expect of each other. Not everything we’ve gleaned is harmful, and it’s easy to see why the nerdy, sensitive male archetype appeals in a culture that tends to valorize alpha males and to devalue femininity. There are plenty of scenes in Annie Hall where Alvy is kind and compassionate, where the easy intimacy Allen and Keaton presumably shared translates to the screen. Their mid-date first kiss (the subject of a blatant homage in Good Will Hunting), the first time they say they love each other in front of the Brooklyn Bridge, the lobsters – these moments and others are as charming and romantic as any ever filmed, and they’ve no doubt informed my behavior and demeanor in the most romantic moments of my own life. Separating out Alvy’s tenderness from his self-absorption, his desire to nurture Annie from his impulse to condescend to her, his genuine intelligence from his know-it-all superiority, and figuring out how to emulate what he does right and reject what he does wrong is something I’ll probably always be working on. Certainly I’ve failed at it enough times to feel a little awkward passing judgment on Allen’s characters.

But it’s not clear Allen feels as conflicted about any of this as his many disciples might.

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