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
Camera and crew reflected on passing cars while following Isaac running down the street. See more »
[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 »
Magical film about the city and those looking for love
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.
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