“Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering — and it's all over much too soon.” - The definitive Woody Allen quote, from Annie Hall
I recently went on a mini Woody Allen binge. In talking to some friends about his films, I was surprised by how many people kind of hate him. Or, should I say, really hate him. It got to the point where all I had to do was hedge at the question, “Why do you hate Woody Allen?” and people would jump in, without hesitation .
I didn’t get it. I love his movies.
Most of the hate-reasons were fueled more by the Woody Allen persona than by the films themselves. For that reason alone, I urge the haters to go back, watch a couple of Woody Allen movies, and witness genius. Here are the five most common reasons as to why people hate him, and five reasons why they really shouldn't.
1. He is SO neurotic and whiny.
Did you mean charming and witty? In rewatching Annie Hall, I forgot how much I liked the intro scene. It’s not the neurosis that drew me in, it was a hero character who’s leading with his faults. No one watches Annie Hall and thinks “this guy is cooler than I am.” It’s a wonderful place to start a film, leveling the field at the absolute bottom.
During the rest of the movie we warm up to him because his faults and deepest thoughts are out on display. Some of us see ourselves there, others are just charmed by the honesty. He attracts the adorable Annie Hall with another Allen staple, sexual confidence. Sex is so central to many of his movies, yet he talks about it as casually as we talk about the weather.
2. His movies are just his own unrealistic sex fantasies.
I’ll admit that Allan Stewart Konigsberg (his real name!) could not have gotten with the Diane Keatons or Mariel Hemingways of the world. But when Allan Konigsberg became "Woody Allen" he sure as hell could. Allen wrote himself into relationships with the women of dreams, and he actually started to get those women in real life. Good for him!
Also, there’s something to be said for a 77-year-old man who can make a romance movie as modern as Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Javier Bardem invites Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall for a threesome like he’s offering a glass of wine. It’s the kind of casual confidence every guy wishes he had, especially Woody Allen. So he put it in a movie, and instead of coming off as perverted or slimy, it’s hot. These characters are two generations younger than him, proving that his sexual obsession is what's fueling his artistic longevity.
3. Yeah, but then he married his like 19-year-old stepdaughter. He's a creepy perv.
Well, he’d been in the cradle-robbing business since he was in his 40s, so the fact that he was still doing it in his 50s isn’t totally unexpected. In Manhattan, he wrote himself into a relationship with a 19-year-old Mariel Hemingway that’s based on a rumored relationship he had with a 17-year-old girl earlier that year.
Chalking one up to the haters on this one. He is kind of a creepy perv.
4. A lot of his movies suck.
They sure do. And you know who doesn’t care? Woody Allen. His resilience is admirable to say the least. Early on, United Artists gave him permission to do whatever he wanted, and that’s why his filmography wanders from the beautifully funny Annie Hall to the crazy-depressing Interiors, to the whimsical Purple Rose of Cairo. He does slapstick, rom com, sweet dramas, and heavy darkness. And a bunch of them are terrible.
But by sheer volume, many of his films are bound to suck. Michael Jordan didn't hit every shot. But the volume is how he’s able to shake off criticism. He writes a movie, shoots it, finishes it, then starts writing again. So if a movie bombs, he’s already writing his next one by the time he gets the numbers. At any given moment, he’s working on his next film, and is fond of saying, “Busy fingers are happy fingers.” It's probably why he holds the record for most Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay (15) and the most wins (3).
The more interviews I see with him, the more I think he really doesn’t care about making movies. At the end of one interview, he says that given the choice between living to 100 and living to 98 but making his magnum opus, he’d take choose to live to 100. Probably because he’s famously scared of death, he even quips, “I’d take two months.” He just makes the movies he makes and goes on with his life.
5. He's more overt about being Jewish than most others in entertainment.
The list of Jewish people in Hollywood is impossibly long, but few have attached themselves to their religion like Woody Allen. Many people have said he became a caricature of what a Jewish guy is supposed to be like, and some of my Jewish friends aren’t a big fan of that. Other Jewish friends like him because he’s Jewish and you always root for your team. Either way, he’s made his religion a major part of his public image, and it turns some people off. But, just like the neurosis and sex-obsession, that’s how Woody Allen is, and he doesn’t care if you like it or not.
For all the superlatives people attach to him, the one you can’t argue with is that Woody Allen is an American original. No sequels. No remakes. No regard for box office numbers. He’s satisfying his own expectations, writing what he wants, and every word of it is genuine. It’s him. And you gotta like that.