The first commercially successful romantic comedy to posit an alternative notion to this underlying concept did not get made until the 1970s. Woody Allen's Annie Hall is dictated by the external social forces of that decade just as much as the screwball comedies were dictated by the economic and social upheaval of the Depression. Annie Hall stakes out a claim for being the first romantic comedy to display the multiple neuroses inherent in a realistic sexual relationship. It is the neuroses of Alvy and Annie that present the obstruction that leads to what becomes the film's most unconventional upending of genre of romantic comedy: the two do not end up together. Until Allen's film the very concept that the romantic leads would not end up together was the definition of a romantic tragedy film.
In another Woody Allen film, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Lester, the successful TV producer, manages to boil down the entire essence of comedy into one simple equation: "If it bends, it's funny. If it breaks, it's not funny." Lester's unctuous delivery of his theory of comedy undermines the serious contemplation of its message, but Lester is essentially simplifying one of the elements of the far more philosophically expansive suppositions about what makes a person laugh forwarded by Henri Bergson, who writes of comedy that "Indifference is its natural environment, for laughter has no greater foe than emotion" (Bergson 4). The implication is that comedy must by its very nature be distanced from the natural emotions involved in an otherwise realistic situation.
Annie Hall establishes distance from the pain experienced by Alvy and Annie as their relationship crumbles by subverting the mechanics of the romantic comedy genre. The traditional arc of a romantic comedy since the screwball era is one that begins with an antagonistic relationship between the man and woman that evolves into mutual attraction before finally ending with consummation. Annie Hall reverses this trajectory by presenting Alvy and Annie as immediately attracted to one another and ending with their romantic parting. The distancing from the undercurrent of tragedy within the story arc of Annie Hall is also accomplished through its insistence on breaking down another convention of the romantic comedy. More so than any other type of comedy, the pre-Annie Hall romantic comedy eschews any intrusion into its carefully constructed sense of reality. Annie Hall, by contrasts, blasts through the fourth wall and at times also becomes an exercise in surrealism: the scene with the subtitles showing what Alvy and Annie are really thinking as they engage in phony small talk; the scene with at the movie theater at which Alvy magically produces Marshall McLuhan. These devices distance the audience from the heightened emotions at stake; ultimately, it becomes clear this relationship is not just going to bend, but break. Annie Hall becomes the first American romantic comedy to find the comic potential not in two people falling in love, but in what happens after the consummation that climaxed the earlier examples of the genre.
Annie Hall may have given rise to a new sub-sub-genre of comedy, the anti-romantic comedy, but external social forces served to collide with