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Woody Allen once said that, whereas Scorsese had generated a host of
imitators, he had generated none. This may be true; films like
Manhattan certainly come along far too infrequently.
That this is such a gorgeous film may strike those following the formulaic, Hollywood approach to cinema as strange and heretical. The story is unexciting (restless male in love triangle), most of the characters are unsympathetic, at least on the surface (particularly Isaac), Allen leaves lose ends lying around all over the place, and there's certainly no action (unless you count the car-chase-without-a-chase-scene involving Diane Keaton, Woody Allen and a VW Beetle).
So why should any self-respecting member of the MTV generation spend time on this film? Well, here are a few reasons.
The script is wit of the highest order. This is not gag-a-minute humour like Friends, but an altogether more acute art form stemming from character, some wonderful dialogue and a fair amount of darkness (I love the bit about Isaac trying to run over his ex-wife's lover). Allen is also prepared to turn his biting satire to personal issues, such as being Jewish. Just don't expect someone to look shrug their shoulders, slap their forehead and with mid-rising intonation say d'uh! It's not that kind of comedy.
Then there is the gorgeous cinematography. Woody loves Manhattan and you can certainly tell. If there is one criticism of the film, it is that it leaves a rather picture postcard impression of the city, but I suppose if it's love, then it's love. Much of the film appears to have been shot at either sunrise or sunset to soften the light, and there are spectacular views of the towers, bridges and waterways of America's finest metropolis.
Then, I suppose, there is the fact that Manhattan is probably the archetypal Woody Allen film. Other films may be better, like Annie Hall or Hannah and Her Sisters but, in Manhattan, all the elements of Allen's style are in perfect balance. There's the jazz, the neurotic, unsympathetic lead, the choice between stable and highly-strung women, the self-mocking humour (hilariously done in the opening voice-over), the railing against intellectual snobbery, the deep unease with popular culture.
And there are great performances. Allen is at his most difficult and in some ways his least likable. As Isaac, he's trying to do the right thing, but is rarely selfless enough to follow through with it. Diane Keaton is great as Mary, the lynchpin between the two love triangles vain, pretentious and yet you can see why Isaac falls for her. Well, all the actors are great, and very believable, but special mention must go to Meryl Streep, who manages to steal the show with her tiny cameo as Isaac's ex-wife, writing a book about their break-up and living with their son and her lover. She is magnificent.
Of course, the film will also do nothing to dispel the popular rumour that New Yorkers are neurotic, self-obsessed and self-indulgent at least that narrow social circle Allen so often writes about. If you don't mind that, though (and I'm English, so what do I care) you're in for a treat. As with the city itself, the memories of this film will stay with you forever.
Manhattan is an exhilarating American romance set against the backdrop of
New York of the late 70's: my favorite New York, the New York of painters,
poets, punks, and Pauline Kael. Three great, very American talents -- Woody
Allen, Gordon Willis, and George Gershwin -- intertwine their respective
gifts to create a comedy that manages to satisfy both the brain and the
heart, and even, perhaps, the lower regions.
Allen is so brainy and such a nebbish that he can get away with gestures that would be painfully sentimental in the hands of any other director: when he begins the movie with fireworks cut to Gershwin, it isn't to soften you up for a soap opera, but to remind you that however much his neuroses may seem to drive the scenes, its the love of New York that drives the movie.
The entire cast is note perfect: Meryl Streep as his caustic bisexual ex-wife, Diane Keaton as a nervous journalist from Philadelphia, and especially Mariel Hemingway, whose performance as Allen's 17-year old girlfriend is charming, heartbreaking, and wise.
Allen's comedy here is at its absolute finest. The fact that it is interwoven with a genuinely moving love story told with a subtlety and indirection that is unheard of in today's mainstream cinema only makes the laughs that much richer.
Gordon Willis' cinematography is good enough for the Museum of Modern Art. Scene after scene leaves a grin on your face as his moving (in both senses) black and white photography floats across the screen.
And finally underlying everything is the music of George Gershwin, whose exubertant melodies propel the movie forward at every turn.
This is Woody Allen's best movie, a great movie, and an American movie in the best sense. As an homage to the city of New York it will surely remain unsurpassed.
No-one can question Woody Allen's status as one of America's premier film directors, and anyone well-versed with his works should not hesitate before nominating 'Manhattan' as his finest film. This movie is a masterpiece; visually and intellectually, it shows Woody Allen at the absolute peak of his art. Shot in a stylistic black and white widescreen format, the cinematography of 'Manhattan' is breathtaking, and Allen's dialogue and command of situation are even better than usual, if that is possible. The heartfelt angst and bittersweet hopelessness of the characters are uncamouflaged even by the sleek cinematographic style of the movie. This movie is Woody Allen's valentine to the city he has such a symbiotic relationship with, and nowhere have I seen New York filmed as artistically as here. Mariel Hemmingway and Diane Keaton give inspired performances around Woody's perfectly played character resulting in what can only be considered a modern masterpiece.
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
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
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.
After the phenomenal success of 'Annie Hall,' the hilarious
Oscar-winning comedy detailing the romantic exploits of neurotic Jewish
comedian Alvey Singer, Woody Allen had become of America's most
respected filmmakers. In 1979, he released what is generally accepted
as his second great masterpiece, 'Manhattan,' a poignant tribute to the
city that Allen loves so dearly. Written by Allen and his 'Annie
Hall'-collaborator Marshall Brickman, 'Manhattan' stars Allen as Isaac
Davis, a twice-divorced, 42-year-old comedy writer who is intimately
involved with a 17-year-old high school student, Tracy (an
Oscar-nominated Mariel Hemingway). Meanwhile, Isaac begins to fall for
Mary (Diane Keaton), who is the secret mistress of his best friend
(Michael Murphy). Adding to all of Isaac's troubles, his former second
wife, Jill (Meryl Streep), who had originally left him for another
woman, has plans to write a tell-all book on their failed marriage.
If this all seems very confusing to you, then you're not alone. Just as in 'Annie Hall,' Allen plays the hopeless romantic who is struggling desperately to understand the maddening complexity of human relationships. Though Tracy is only seventeen years old, she is arguably the most honest and mature of the women in Isaac's life; nonetheless, he doesn't treat her seriously. In his mind, anything that she says is quite obviously influenced by the naivety and downright ignorance of the young. Their relationship was never meant to be anything more than a brief "fling," and so he feels no guilt for seeing another woman behind his back, an act that makes him livid when it ultimately happens to him.
'Manhattan' was shot in beautiful crisp black-and-white by Gordon Willis, who has also worked on, among countless other films, 'Annie Hall' and the three installments of 'The Godfather.' The cinematography offers New York City a romantic 1940s feel, reminiscent of how Allen claims to remember the city as a child: "Maybe it's a reminiscence from old photographs, films, books and all that. But that's how I remember New York. I always heard Gershwin music with it, too. In 'Manhattan' I really think that we that's me and cinematographer Gordon Willis succeeded in showing the city. When you see it there on that big screen it's really decadent."
Mysteriously, this film remains the least-liked by the director himself, though, at the same time, it was also his most commercially successful. As you've no doubt already noticed from this review, 'Manhattan' is often likened to 1977's 'Annie Hall,' perhaps due to the repeated casting of Allen and Keaton (a not uncommon occurrence) or its similar attempt to uncover the elusive secrets behind love and relationships. In terms of film-making style, however, the films are quite dissimilar. Unlike the highly-energetic 'Annie Hall' which cut back and forward in time, visited old memories, broke the fourth wall and made conversations with passing extras 'Manhattan' boasts a more classical approach quiet, softly-spoken and accompanied by a wistfully slow jazzy soundtrack, also relying heavily on the works of George Gershwin.
'Manhattan' looks beautiful in black and white. It is definitely Woody
Allen's best. Two years after 'Annie Hall' we have Woody Allen and Diane
Keaton together again. Allen plays Isaac who is dating the 17-year old Tracy
(Mariel Hemingway). He has a friend, the married Yale (Michael Murphy), who
is having an affair with Mary (Diane Keaton). Isaac falls in love with Mary
and stops seeing Tracy to start things with Mary. In a sub-plot we have the
ex-wife of Isaac publishing a book about their sex-life. Now she is living
with a woman. The ex-wife Jill is played by Meryl Streep. Her appearances
are short and not very often but she is more than great in her
'Manhattan' is even better than the great 'Annie Hall'. The black and white cinematograpy, done with a good reason, gives a little extra to the movie. Like I said Streep is terrific and so are Allen, Keaton and especially Hemingway (she was nominated for an Oscar). The monologues Allen had in 'Annie Hall' are still present, smart, interesting and funny. A great story, very intelligent, of course written (and directed) by Woody Allen himself.
Woody Allen has been churning out mediocre films for so long now that
it's easy to forget how good some of his older films were. "Manhattan"
is the product of Allen's "mature" 1970s phase, the phase that also
produced "Annie Hall" and "Interiors," and it's a wonderful film. It's
not the plot that makes it singular -- it's typical upper-crust New
York Allen, full of neurotic people in therapy cheating on one another
and making mistake after mistake in their pursuit of what they think
will make them happy. No, what makes "Manhattan" so effective is its
style. Filmed in black and white (because, as Allen's character says in
an opening voice over, New York is a city that has always and will
always exist in black and white), the film is a love letter to NYC, and
it suggests that the neuroses that fill its denizens are as much a part
of the city's character as its architecture, culture and diversity. I
would instantly be annoyed by the people that populate Allen's films if
I met them in any other context. As it is, I can't imagine any Allen
film (at least not one set in New York) without them.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A movie in which a 42year old Woody Allen dates a 17 year old (who actually sounds about 12)...is that tacky or what? Even without knowing about Woody Allen's subsequent real life involvement with his step daughter it just seems inappropriate (and that's putting it mildly). If it had been a movie about a gay older man having a relationship with a teenage boy i'm sure that it would have caused outrage and i can't see why it should be much different just because its a heterosexual relationship. And then to realize at the end of his movie that the 17 year old is really the love of his life..i mean..ewwwwwwwwwwwh...pass me the sick bag. Diane Keaton we're meant to believe is some sort of really intellectual but just seems a moronic insult to women with her vacuous prognostications. I'll give it a few stars for the cinematography and music score and another star for a few throwaway woody allen one-liners but really this movie is just an embarrassment.
On the basis of one viewing about 20 years ago, I always considered this my favorite Woody Allen film. Upon further review, I am not so impressed. The cinematography is wonderful (I'm a sucker for New York, too), the acting is ok (Mariel Hemingway better than ok), and there are some good one liners, but, overall I found it boring and self-indulgent, especially in the directing. This film has no real reason for being...it's ultimately inconsequential. That makes me sad and now I have to watch my other favorites to see if they hold up. I still have hopes for Hannah, Misdemeanors, Purple Rose, & Love & Death. This one isn't in the pantheon anymore.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Isaac, Mary and Yale... all 3 of them go back and forth between
romantic partners, unable to decide on anything. They have the maturity
of teenagers... Do 40 year olds like this exist? Yes, but it's just an
unpleasant experience to watch them on screen. Is that the point?
Maybe, but it doesn't make for a good movie.
Just when I think Isaac can't stoop lower, the movie ends with him trying to stop Tracey from going to London and actually getting a life of her own... let's be honest here... this guy is willing to destroy a 17 year old's life to deal with his loneliness.
The movie is self-aware about these issues... but so what? What makes it worth my time to watch immature people acting idiotically for 90 minutes... To let me know that some folks don't grow up?
If I wanted to watch 30-40 year olds behaving like teenagers and switching partners willy nilly, I can watch any American soap opera. Basically that's what this movie amounts to for me. It's dressed up in clever dialogue, but the substance is the same.
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