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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One of the very few Woody Allen films to not have traditional opening credits, save the production company bumper (United Artists), and the film title MANHATTAN is seen as a long vertical flashing bright neon sign, located on the side of a New York City building, and is seen for under seven seconds just before Woody Allen narrates his first line. See more »
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.
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