In this critical piece, Philip Kerr argues that in American cinema there is an underlying sense of embarrassment or discomfort with the idea of love, which leads to the inclusion of humor in films that deal directly with love. Kerr asserts that it is for this reason that the majority of romance films in American cinema in recent years have been romantic comedies. Kerr cites Annie Hall (1977), When Harry Met Sally (1989), Sleepless in Seattle (1993), While You Were Sleeping (1995), As Good as it Gets (1997), and What Women Want (2000) among examples of these romantic comedies. He argues that European cinema is not faced with such restrictions and inhibitions and therefore explores love in much more serious tones and treats it with greater respect. Kerr takes this argument one step further to assert, rather radically, that “outside New York and Los Angeles, Americans don’t feel comfortable with the English language… which is the polite way of saying that outside the big cities, most Americans are plain inarticulate.” Kerr does not make it clear how he arrives at such a conclusion based on his earlier allegation that Americans are uncomfortable addressing love and romance directly. He does not provide the reader with definitions of what he means by inarticulate, so it is hard to determine exactly what Kerr is arguing. There is a definite negative undertone to his critique of American cinema in contrast with European cinema, but he does not provide any reason as to why Americans and Europeans might address love differently, nor does he introduce any ways to remedy the situation. The problem with Kerr’s argument is that, while he shows an association between the proliferation of romantic comedies and the sense of discomfort with love in American society, he does not provide enough evidence to prove a causal relationship between the two concepts. This article has minimal relevance to Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, though it does put it in the context of the modern romantic comedy and set it in a group of potential comparable and notable films. It is important to look at articles such as this one that examine Annie Hall in a much larger context so as not to get caught up only in articles that look specifically at the minute details and underpinnings of the specific film itself. It is easy to find oneself looking only at character analyses and symbolism within the cinematography of a particular film, which can sometimes cause one to lose sight of the film in the larger context of its role in American cinema and the connotations that its place in film history bring to the film.
John C. Spurlock writes a comprehensive and astute assessment of David Shumway’s book Modern Love: Romance, Intimacy, and the Marriage Crisis. Spurlock synthesizes Shumway’s study of modern relationships and the development of romantic love over past few centuries. Shumway, a professor of English and Literary and Cultural Studies at Carnegie Mellon University, analyzes the transformation of the discourse of romance and the narrative form of romantic love. He relies on “historical work on the family, sexuality, courtship, and marriage… show[ing] that an important shift in the understanding and uses of romance appears in the late 18th and early 19th century.” He asserts that novels were the main “carriers of romantic discourse” in the 19th century and that as a shift to the increase of personal expectations from marriage occurred, so did the rate of divorce, which led to the so-called marriage crisis. Shumway studies the marriage crisis through the frames of intimacy and romance. Throughout the twentieth century, the discourse of romance, love, marriage, and intimacy continued to change and the idea of love repeatedly reinvented itself. These shifts in discourse were reflected through the literature and culture of the time. Advice writers became prevalent and the new connotations of love and romance were depicted in the development of the screwball comedy. In the way that literature was a carrier of romantic discourse in the late 18th and 19th centuries, film also became such a carrier in the 20th century. As the marriage crisis became a more serious issue due to the transformation of the idea of modern love and the increasing divorce rate, these advice writers and films that addressed marriage and romance began to play larger roles in society. Shumway explores the challenges associated with achieving the 20th century ideal of intimacy by observing popular and timely films such as Annie Hall (1977) and When Harry Met Sally (1989). These films provide insight into the culturally accepted definitions of such ideals as intimacy, romance, and love, while also revealing the subtexts associated with these ideals. This article does a remarkable job of synthesizing a convoluted and complex body of literature, but it is still not as sufficient or comprehensive as Shumway’s actual text. In terms of the article’s relevancy to Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, the article does not address Annie Hall in detail, but it does demonstrate how such a film can both reflect and generate cultural ideals including love, intimacy, and romance, which is arguably the most important role of the film.