Forty-two year old Isaac Davis has a romanticized view of his hometown, New York City, most specifically Manhattan, as channeled through the lead character in the first book he is writing, despite his own Manhattan-based life being more of a tragicomedy. He has just quit his job as a hack writer for a bad television comedy, he, beyond the ten second rush of endorphins during the actual act of quitting, now regretting the decision, especially as he isn't sure he can live off his book writing career. He is paying two alimonies, his second ex-wife, Jill Davis, a lesbian, who is writing her own tell-all book of their acrimonious split. The one somewhat positive aspect of his life is that he is dating a young woman named Tracy, although she is only seventeen and still in high school. Largely because of their differences a big part of which is due to their ages, he does not see a long term future with her. His life has the potential to be even more tragicomical when he meets journalist Mary... Written by
[music: the opening of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Voiceover]
Chapter One. He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion. Eh uh, no, make that he, he romanticized it all out of proportion. Better. To him, no 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. Uh, no, let me start this over.
Chapter One: He was too romantic about Manhattan, as he was about everything else. He thrived on...
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There are no opening credits, save the production company bumper and the film's title, which appears as part of a flashing neon sign in New York City. See more »
A love song to Manhattan disguised as romantic comedy
I won't rework the thorough comments which preceded mine here, because all the accolades I would give this film are stated quite eloquently. It is his best film; it does contain brilliant insights into human nature; it is visually breathtaking. I just want to mention a few aspects from my point of view.
It has been on my list of the five best movies ever made ever since I saw it in 1979, chiefly for its realistic dialogue and probing commentary on the desperate nature of human beings in search of love, but I had never seen New York with my own eyes, so I could only try to accept but not fully understand Woody's love for Manhattan, which is firmly stated in the introductory narration.
After my recent 4 day trip there, I have a new perspective - the city itself is so charmingly and compactly laid out, so full of history and culture and everything famous, that you can't go to New York without falling in love with it. After only 3 days I felt I wanted to live there. It is the city of not only Woody Allen but Bob Dylan, Tennessee Williams, Edgar Allan Poe, George Washington, Paul Newman, Jacqueline Onassis, and hundreds of other illustrious and creative people of the past and present. The tour guides can't possibly squeeze in the whole story of every district and every building; the air just vibrates with this knowledge that you are in the greatest city in the world.
The beauty of Manhattan that Woody conveys so perfectly in every camera shot and through the music of Gershwin has new meaning for me because I was there. It's not so much a physical beauty but a feeling that all is right with the city, that this is what a city is supposed to be. It puts other cities to shame.
All I can say is he fully succeeded in conveying what New York City is like. Not to mention that I now understand the obsession with delis; they have the best food in the world.
I would also like to add my new perspective on the story itself - a very 70's plot of several people switching romantic partners back and forth at the drop of a hat. Diane Keaton's Mary remains the most perfect of the characterizations as the neurotic free spirit who despite her total self-absorption inspires our sympathy and affection. The 17 year old played by Mariel Hemingway is more irritating with the passage of 20 years, not because Woody's real-life obsession with young girls came to light, but because Mariel is a truly vapid non-actress with no ability to convey any depth or feeling. The constant commentary about her stunning beauty falls flat because she merely has a strikingly angular face, no personality and really possesses nothing except the bloom of youth and shiny hair. Mary rightly tells Isaac that his first wife becoming a lesbian "explains the little girl."
The denouement seems more unsatisfactory now than in previous viewings, and I want to shake the characters awake. But it was the seventies, and this is how people acted. It captures the times perfectly. I can't discuss who ends up with whom without spoiling the end for those who haven't seen it, but the problem for me is that the characters seem to live for the moment and if they can't have the one they want, they simply change partners without much strain.
This attitude does not play quite so charmingly at the end of the 90's when fidelity is valued more highly than it was in the 70's.
Nevertheless the beauty of the city stands alone no matter what the characters' desperate machinations.
And as a hilarious commentary on the human instinct to find someone to love no matter what the consequences, there is nothing finer. Though I might not approve of Isaac's final choice, his almost religious experience which brings him to that conclusion is a stunning climax to the film. Whether he changes his mind about who is the right one for him, he has learned something crucial about what really is important to him in life.
The true stars of the movie are Manhattan, never more beautiful, and Diane Keaton, never more brilliant.
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