J.P. Porter — the hero of #AnnieHall, a new homage to Woody Allen’s classic, essential love letter to New York City — is a rather sassy guy who likes to talk. Admittedly, it’s mostly jabber fueled by neurotic preoccupations that belie an unshaken confidence, but it’s entertaining stuff. Hence his success with women nearly half his age. J.P. is too narcissistic to be considered a depressive, but he would definitely agree with Alvy Singer’s sentiment that life is “full of loneliness and misery and suffering and unhappiness and it’s all over much too quickly.”
Which makes sense, because Alvy (“played” by Woody Allen in his own 1977 film Annie Hall) is essentially J.P’s spirit animal. But even if J.P. is something of a mirror image of Mr. Allen, #AnnieHall isn’t a remake so much as it’s an effort to bring Annie Hall into the post-Internet age.
But #AnnieHall hasn’t been completed just yet. Right now, all we have of it is a tantalizing trailer and 10-minute short, both of which the filmmaker J.D. Oxblood is using to attract interest to help finish the film. Oxblood is betting that people will be interested in learning more about Minnie Wohl (the Millennial Annie Hall played by Charly Bivona) and her improbable, but still sort of fascinating relationship with a Gen Xer, J.P.
I first met J.D. Oxblood (the pen name that Bradley Spinelli, a B+B contributor, uses when writing about burlesque for this site and for Burlesque Beat) back in July. The film crew had assembled near the Williamsburg waterfront on a hot sunny day. Before I had even glimpsed the cast I noticed the setting was remarkably different from that of Annie Hall, which takes place in Manhattan (Upper East Side, Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village, the Central Park Zoo, long gone diners and bookstores overtaken by a Prada store and noodle shops, and of course the South Street Seaport overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge).
The location was a relatively quiet (though it won’t be for much longer) corner of Williamsburg and the film crew didn’t have too much trouble filming despite the occasional stroller-wielding passerby.
The crew was setting up a scene similar to the one found at the opening of Annie Hall, when Alvy is ranting to his BFF Rob about rampant anti-semitism (Rob dismisses it as Alvy being paranoid).
If this was going to be an update, then #AnnieHall would have to be filmed somewhere in Brooklyn. Williamsburg or Bushwick are the most obvious choices and it seems that Oxblood picked the most photogenic of the two. Still, it was funny watching the film shot here, on this post-industrial block of Brooklyn — in the original Annie Hall, Brooklyn was either a distant view or a punchline, as in Alvy growing up in the shadow of a roller coaster on Coney Island.
But times have changed, and Oxblood’s script also demonstrates that. For instance Will, Rob’s counterpart in #AnnieHall, advises J.P. to move to Palo Alto. Horrifying, yes, but Silicon Valley is symbolic of what separates Annie Hall from #AnnieHall, namely the internet, the Millennial.
Williamsburg makes sense as a location– Oxblood, who under his real name is the author of a novel appropriately titled Killing Williamsburg, has lived there for 15 years and has seen the neighborhood transform, something that won’t be overlooked in the film. “I see this as a modern Brooklyn movie and I want it to be indicative of what Brooklyn has become now,” Oxblood said. “I think we need a new word for gentrification, I think we need another way to talk about it. It’s sort of one thing for a neighborhood to change when people become a little more affluent and there are a few more coffee shops, but it’s another thing when developers are building multi-million dollar apartments occupied by Russian oligarchs and half of Wythe Avenue looks like the Meatpacking District. It’s something else now, it’s something that I don’t even understand.”
But Oxblood wants #AnnieHall to be as much about Williamsburg as it is about relationships and what he sees as a dramatic generation gap. Oxblood is a Gen Xer, as is his character J.P. The star of the film, Minnie Wohl, and the woman he cast in that role, Charly Bivona, are Millennials.
“I mean, I grew up in a different world than you or Charly did,” Oxblood said. “I remember when there was no email, no cell phone and Generation X is the last generation to remember that. We had one phone and it was at the house and if you weren’t home, you didn’t get a phone call– that was it. If you made plans to meet someone, you showed up.”
If that sounds like a jab, maybe it’s because Oxblood thinks of the Gen X worldview as a little more cynical. “I think Millennials are a lot more positive than Generation X,” he argued. “They see the world as full of a lot more possibilities, whereas my generation started closing off possibilities at an early age.”
Still, Charly has a “darker quality” that “brings a Joan Jett sensibility to the character that’s maybe a little bit more intimidating,” Oxblood said.
Millennials are often called out by the elderly (i.e. anyone much over 30) for being selfish, lazy, addicted to technology and social media, entitled, and above all, narcissistic. But look to the original Annie Hall and you’ll see characters behaving in much the same way. They cheat on one another and swap partners as easily as trying out a new flavor of yogurt. They’re astoundingly narcissistic and naive, yet cynical and cultured in the way that they quickly consume whatever’s new, analyze it, and forget about it. But Oxblood isn’t criticizing Millennials — instead his character falls in love with one.
Though they share some essential behavioral tendencies, Alvy and J.P.’s identities couldn’t be more different. Alvy embodies the stereotypical qualities of upper-class, liberal, white, male, New York Jews: he’s neurotic, something of a libertine, narcissistic, clever, educated. Whereas J.P., in Oxblood’s words, is “from the Midwest and a Catholic who, when he moves to New York, gets involved with this much younger Millennial girl who’s a Jew.”
“You don’t have to be Jewish to be neurotic,” I’ve heard Oxblood say more than once. And that statement sort of gets at the heart of what he’s doing with this film. After I heard this a few times, I got the feeling that Oxblood is trying to blow this classic New Yorker identity wide open. And in light of the serious, credible rape accusation that’s been leveled at Woody Allen (sorry, we couldn’t not say it), perhaps it’s time for a new Annie Hall, one we can feel good about. But Oxblood isn’t trying to rewrite the book. “I still think Annie Hall is just a perfect movie,” he said.
Bivona, who said she’s seen the original “maybe once,” told us Oxblood didn’t want her to study Annie’s character too closely. “He said, ‘I’m not looking for that, I’m looking for a new girl for the audience to fall in love with,’” Charly recalled, adding that Oxblood wanted “somebody who was quirky and confident, but also very down to earth and whimsical. Someone who wasn’t perfect, but was kind of clumsy and cute, but didn’t beat herself up for it, and sort of let her freak flag fly.”
Whoa, whoa, whoa– is this, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl? Well, if #AnnieHall follows a similar plot line to the original, then we’re confident Minnie Wohl is not an MPDG, which by definition transforms a rather uptight, responsible man into a fun loving, freer human being, releasing him from the bonds of responsibility with her wit and whimsy. Rather, Annie Hall plays up the tensions between the two different personalities, which in the end are unresolvable. And hell, we’ll give Diane Keaton way more credit than any other MPDGs we’ve met.
Though we only have bits of #AnnieHall right now, Oxblood is confident the film will be completed. “We want to make the feature film,” he said. “The world needs a decent rom-com and we’ve already got a great script and a great cast and crew. Funding is next.”
Bivona was also assured of the film’s completion. “I can’t tell you how many indie films I’ve made that have never seen the light of day,” she said. “You kind of get used to being in the moment, in that day, and just enjoying your time there because the results are not the important part, but working with J.D. on the film, he made everybody excited to be there and excited for the results.”