Alvy Singer, Annie Hall’s narrator, is a Jewish stand-up comedian who has lived in New York City his entire life. He opens the film by directly addressing the audience, a habit that will continue throughout the film, and telling them his contradictory life philosophy: while life is miserable it’s over far too soon and he doesn’t like dating any woman who would actually love somebody like him. The bulk of Singer’s story will be about his relationship with a woman named Annie Hall, who he reveals he he has just broken up with.
Singer’s depression begins as a child when he heard that the universe will someday end. Despite a doctor’s assurance that such an event will not happen for billions of years, he decides that small things like homework and big things like his life are meaningless since the universe is ultimately doomed. He claims to have an active imagination, which leads to his dubious assertion that he grew up under the roller coaster at Coney Island. Because his father ran the bumper car ride, Singer would use the cars to get out his aggression. He hated school and takes the opportunity to make fun of his classmates, even the ones who turned out to be successes. Singer decided to become a stand-up comedian, and as he catches us up to the time when he dated Annie, it’s clear he’s been very successful.
The first time we see Alvy and Annie together, they’re upset. On his way to meet Annie at the movies, Alvy tells his best friend Rob that he suspects that many of his fellow New Yorkers are Anti-Semites. Annie arrives late and reveals she’s missed her appointment with her therapist. The delay causes Alvy and Annie to arrive after the movie starts, and Alvy will not go in if he can’t see the movie from beginning to end. As a substitute, he proposes they watch The Sorrow and the Pity, a four-hour documentary about the Nazi occupation of France. The subject matter suits Alvy but not Annie.
That night, Annie is reluctant to sleep with Alvy, which causes Alvy to wonder what has happened to their relationship. Annie reminds Alvy about Alvy’s first wife, Allison. We learn that Alvy met Allison, a Jewish PhD candidate in literature who is also from New York, when he was campaigning against President Dwight Eisenhower. We see that Allison really did like Alvy but that Alvy dwelt on trivial matters like conspiracy theories as a means of pushing away from Allison’s affection and attention. Alvy wonders if his problem with Allison was that he didn’t want to be in a relationship with anyone who loved him that much. The film cuts to a happier moment from Alvy and Annie’s relationship. They are staying in a lake house attempting to wrangle some live lobster they have purchased. Later that night as they walk along the beach, Alvy asks if he is Annie’s first major romance. Annie says no and talks about two men she dated, one from her hometown—Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin—and another from her New York City acting class. Alvy makes fun of both men and quips that Annie is lucky to have him in her life. Annie points out that as a Midwesterner, she is different than either of Alvy’s wives. We see two scenes with Alvy’s second wife, a high-powered New York intellectual. At a party filled with his wife’s peers and colleagues, Alvy hides in a bedroom to watch a New York Knicks basketball game and proposes making love to his wife rather than participate in the party’s intellectual banter. His wife labels his behavior “acting out.” In the second scene, the pair experiences another frustrated attempt at intimacy because of the wife’s anxiety.
We then see how Alvy met Annie. Alvy’s friend Rob, an actor, invites Alvy to play doubles tennis with his girlfriend and Annie. After the match, Annie strikes up a conversation with Alvy and offers to drive him to where he needs to go. Alvy, who does not have a car, agrees but soon discovers that Annie isn’t that good of a driver. Alvy hangs out at Annie’s apartment while waiting for his psychiatrist appointment. He discovers that Annie is an amateur photographer who romanticizes suicidal poetesses like Sylvia Plath and plans to start singing in a nightclub. In one of the film’s funniest sequences, we see subtitles for what Alvy and Annie are actually thinking as they talk to one another. The meeting ends with Alvy asking Annie out.
On their first date, Alvy goes to hear Annie’s nightclub debut. While Annie feels she did horribly, Alvy encourages her and the two end up sleeping together. As their relationship begins, Alvy takes Annie to a bookstore to give her two books about death, a subject he says is very important to him. Walking along the East River, Alvy and Annie declare their love for one another. Very quickly, Annie wants to move in with Alvy, but Alvy is against it. For the first time, they have an argument about whether or not Alvy can take Annie seriously. On a trip to Wisconsin that includes a stand-up routine for Alvy and a visit to her parents for Annie, Alvy and Annie fight about sex. Annie smokes weed to help her relax while making love, and Alvy objects to the drug, claiming that as a comedian, he suspects any artificially induced pleasure. His stand-up routine, all about his familial and educational neuroses, go over well at the University of Wisconsin. Alvy’s visit with Annie’s parents is a bit strained as they serve ham to the ethnically Jewish Alvy, and it’s obvious that Annie’s beloved grandmother is an Anti-Semite. Alvy comments on the differences between his parents and Annie’s parents, and in a dual-screen shot, we see both sets of parents discuss their differences with one another. Finally, Alvy discovers that Daune, Annie’s brother, is a homicidal maniac when he confesses privately to Alvy that he dreams of driving his car into oncoming traffic. Duane, of course, is the one who proceeds to drive Alvy and Annie to the airport.
Back in New York City, Alvy and Annie have a fight spawned by Alvy’s jealousy. Alvy had suggested that Annie take some adult education courses, but when he checks up on her, he finds Annie’s male professor is paying undo attention to her. The argument is intercut with another conversation between Alvy and Annie after Annie has begun therapy at Alvy’s suggestion. Annie tells her therapist about one of her dreams, which involved a bespectacled Frank Sinatra trying to choke Annie during sex. Annie’s therapist interpreted the dream to mean that Sinatra represents Alvy, whose last name is “Singer.” Annie expresses her worry that Alvy doesn’t think she’s smart enough for him, so Alvy encourages her to take Adult Education courses. The scene then cuts back to the original argument where Alvy contradicts himself and lambasts Annie for taking an adult education course with such a lecherous professor. Annie drives off in a taxi, and the two break up.
Alvy tries to figure out what went wrong in the relationship and reveals that he’s always been drawn to difficult women, preferring the wicked witch to Snow White. At his friend Rob’s suggestion, Alvy goes on a date with a Rolling Stones reporter. Alvy makes fun of the reporter’s assignment and interests, and even though the two end up sleeping together, Alvy regrets it. While he’s still in bed with the reporter, Annie calls him. She has a large spider in her bathroom, and she feels only Alvy can take care of it. When he arrives at her apartment, Alvy discovers that Annie has dated since they broke up and has started buying the right-wing magazine, National Review. After, Alvy handles the spider problem, Annie tearily confesses she misses Alvy and the pair decide to get back together.
Alvy and Annie join Rob in visiting Alvy’s old home where they have a good time reminiscing about Alvy’s past. Annie has become an accomplished singer, and after her latest performance a famous musician named Tony Lacey complements Annie and invites Annie and Alvy to hang out with him and his celebrity friends. Annie wants to, but Alvy balks. In therapy, each complains about the other, interpreting the same facts entirely differently. Annie is most upset with Alvy’s reluctance to try anything new. The couple fly to Los Angeles so Alvy can present an award on television where they visit with Rob who has since moved to LA to be a television actor. Alvy has an allergic reaction to the city and ends up backing out of his television gig. Rob takes Alvy and Annie to a Christmas party that just happens to be hosted by Tony Lacey. On the flight back home, the couple decides their relationship isn’t working and they break up, rather amicably, back in New York.
The good feelings don’t last long. Alvy starts missing Annie and discovers she’s moved to the West Coast to live with Lacey. He attempts to recreate moments from his relationship with Annie with a new woman, but it fails miserably. In a moment of panic, he decides to fly to LA to propose to her, where the pair meet at a health-food restaurant. Alvy proposes marriage, but Annie wants to remain friends. She tries to express her gratitude for what Alvy has done for her, especially for the way that Alvy helped her get outside of her own apartment and begin to interact with the world, but says she no longer feels she is love with him. Upset and flummoxed by having to drive a car, Alvy gets into an accident, disrespects an officer, and winds up in jail, forcing Rob to bail him out.
Back in New York, Alvy works on his first play. We see a rehearsal where two stand-ins for Alvy and Annie share the dialogue we have just heard from the pair’s meeting in California, with one major difference: the Annie character decides to go with the Alvy character. Alvy ends the film by saying he saw Annie again after she moved back to New York City, and she was taking her new boyfriend to see The Sorrow and the Pity. While relationships are demanding and often crazy, Alvy is grateful to have known and loved Annie. The movie ends with us hearing Annie sing the song “Seems Like Old Times.”