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Manhattan (1979)


Not quite an island of serenity...
Not quite an island of serenity...

Genre: Comedy Romance Drama

Starring: Woody Allen (Antz • Sleeper), Diane Keaton (Annie HallReds)

Directed By: Woody Allen (The Purple Rose of CairoHannah and Her Sisters)

Overview: Exploring the relationships of a man, his best friend, their neuroses, their women and their affairs, all in the shadow of the glorious city of New York.

My few experiences with Woody Allen’s work has been three-stars-out-of-five pleasant. I can safely say that I like his style. His strength is in his characters. They’re out-there enough to be interesting but rooted in the normal. They may often be a mess, but they have a chance at coping, we can connect with them, we can relate to them. Allen’s not the kind of director who I know for exploring wild cinematography or outrageous scripts - he’s a nice, safe, entertaining storyteller. Manhattan was one more example of exactly what I expect from one of the world’s most famous New Yorkers.

Chapter One. He adored New York City...he romanticized it all out of matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin… New York was his town, and it always would be.

We open with black-and-white shots of New York City while Isaac (Woody Allen) waxes romantic about his town. We meet him, a recently-divorced 42-year old television comedy writer, dating a 17 -year old high school student, Tracy (Mariel Hemingway). His best friend Yale (Michael Murphy) is married, but is having an affair with Mary Wilkie (Diane Keaton). When Isaac meets Mary for the first time, he despises her. Their taste in art are diametrically opposed, she’s too cerebral, she's too snobby. But slowly, he gets to know her. The more they talk, the more attracted he becomes. Meanwhile Isaac’s ex-wife Jill (Meryl Streep in one of her earliest roles) - who left him for another woman – is writing a book about her relationship with Isaac and all their dirty little secrets.

Obviously the primary focus is with Isaac and Mary, but his best friend, Yale, and the love Pentagon they create is where the comedy lies. What’s funny about Manhattan is not so much jokes spoken - though there is much of that – but the messed up situations these people embroil themselves in and how they deal with them – they constantly overthink everything, they constantly talk about their therapists, they constantly seem to be in a state of change that they aren’t happy with. But it’s not manic. It’s neurotic that never goes psychotic, it’s crazy seen calmly. Manhattan doesn’t set you on edge, mostly because the laughs punch through all the madness. It lets you explore these people and laugh along with them, even though sometimes they’re not really… laughing.

Manhattan is like watching weeks of other people’s therapy. Perhaps it can’t help you per se, but it sure as hell can’t hurt.

P.S. Interesting how art imitates life, eh? All laid out in black and white a decade before Soon-Yi was even born…

is that a Miro in the back? Check out that Miro in the back!
Is that a Miro in the back? Check out that Miro in the back!

Performance: 8 Cinematography: 8 Script: 8 Plot: 8 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 80% (A Little Dirty But Still Impressive)

My experience with Woody Allen is pretty middle of the road. Neither an obsessive completist nor a noobie, I’ve grown up with his films, having previously seen five of them. Woody may be a prolific director, but I’m not convinced that this much of his oeuvre deserves to be in the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book, especially the specific ones chosen to be among its pages. Including Manhattan, the biblical tome I use as a guide to worship film has a full seven of his movies: Sleeper, Annie Hall, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Hannah and her Sisters, Deconstructing Harry & Crimes and Misdemeanours, none of which I’ve explored critically. The book doesn’t include his recent trend of outside-of-America filmmaking. Because of this, it seems to me that we’re getting many similar films by one director in a comprehensive guide that should definitely be broader. His movies are very similar, sometimes almost stepping over each other thematically. Not having seen most of the ones mentioned above, I fully admit I could be wrong, but the similarities in many of these films is obvious, the brightest example being Annie Hall and Manhattan - two stories about Woody Allen and Diane Keaton having a romance while exploring New York.

In the end, I’m looking forward to reviewing exploring more of his work, especially since I’m pretty sure I won’t hate any of them, but it would have been nice to have a little less repetition.

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Actually, I would argue Annie Hall and Manhattan are both very innovative - Annie Hall in terms of editing and screenwriting and shot style, Manhattan in its cinematography (due of course, to Allen letting Gordon Willis do his thing more than to Allen himself).

Agreed - Manhattan has the most beautiful B & W cinematography of any film of any film I can think of.

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