‘My Annie Hall’ leaves Dartmouth residents laughing

Jul 23, 2019

The film opened with a monologue: An elderly man with white hair and glasses talking about getting older in a distinctive New York accent. “I turned 90 … and I’m not worried about aging. I think I’m going to get better as I get older, you know?” 

It’s a 30-minute adaptation of Woody Allen’s classic “Annie Hall” with a senior citizen cast, screened at the New Bedford Whaling Museum on July 21 by the Dartmouth Rotary Club and the Dartmouth Friends of the Elderly.

The film — starring 94-year-old Harry B. Miller opposite Shula Chernick in the titular role — played to an audience ranging in age from twentysomethings to senior citizens.

And the audience was appreciative. Laughter echoed around the theater every few minutes — especially during one scene where the characters attempt to deal with a couple of escaped lobsters on the kitchen floor. 

“They took the best parts,” said Dartmouth Friends of the Elderly President Maria Connor. “It was really funny.”

More than 100 people came out on the day, including directors Matt Starr and Ellie Sachs, who came up from New York City for the occasion.

The two — both millennials — spoke at a Q and A session after the film’s screening, and met with audience members at a reception on the museum’s top floor.

During the session, Starr said that he came up with the idea for the film a couple of years ago after watching Casablanca with his grandmother, who suffered from early-onset Alzheimer’s.

“I realized the relationship that we had growing up was not gonna be the same relationship moving forward,” he said. 

But after putting on the film, he noticed that his grandmother could recite almost all of the lines for one of the characters, and he started reciting the other lines in the scene. 

“I realized that this would be an amazing way to continue to have a meaningful relationship moving forward,” said Starr, who then decided to scale up the project for seniors where he lived in New York as a way to connect young people with the elderly.

Sachs also got involved, and the film “My Annie Hall” was born over a year later.

“We’re ready to do a production!” said Connor after the show.

“We’ll continue to develop that beautiful interaction between the ages, the elderly and the young,” she added.

Dartmouth Rotary Club President Cyndi Marland said that she decided to host the directors after watching a segment of ‘CBS This Morning’ in which the two were interviewed.

“I think they come with a very important message to the community, and the growing population of seniors on the south coast and especially in Dartmouth,” she said. 

Audience member Mary Abernathy of Dartmouth loved the film. “I really, really, really enjoyed it,” she said. “I loved it. It reminded me of a lot of things,” she added with a laugh.

Elizabeth Barrios, a nurse who works with patients with dementia, noted that storytelling can be very helpful in connecting with older generations. “It’s oh-so-true what they said [about the importance of storytelling]. I loved the film. It was brilliant,” she said.

Starr and Sachs said at the reception that they were enjoying their first-ever stay in the south coast.

“It’s magical,” Starr said of the history and culture of the area. “We want to bring our friends here. There are a lot of community-based programs that are inspiring us.”

“We love it,” agreed Sachs. “I really didn’t know what to expect … there’s just so much history here. We had no idea. It’s just been really really cool.”