(United States, 1979)
Woody Allen is one of those filmmakers who seems to inspire either rabid loyalty or blind hatred, but rarely indifference. Admittedly, Allen's personal life is filled with a wide variety of unsavory episodes, but, when it comes to crafting movies, it's hard to deny the wellspring of talent. In recent years, Allen hasn't come close to equaling his early work (either on the dramatic or comedic front). But, while his latest films have disappointed, one only has to look back two decades to find a vault of cinematic greatness - smart, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking movies that energize the mind, engage the emotions, and tickle the funny bone. My personal favorite of Allen's oeuvre is Manhattan, a film that stands up as strongly today as when it was first made. I doubt this movie will ever lose its relevance. I first saw Manhattan about ten years ago, and was immediately smitten by both the story and the manner in which it is told. I love the Gershwin score, the black-and-white photography, and the pithy introductory voiceover. Manhattan attempts many of the same things as Annie Hall, but does them better, and, as a result is a more satisfying endeavor. Even for those with a virulent dislike of all things Allen, Manhattan still has a lot to offer. It is a great motion picture, regardless of whether you see it as a comedy, a drama, a romance, or (most appropriately) a melange of all three.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
The protagonist is Isaac, Woody Allen in a crepe paper-thin disguise. Isaac is a twice-divorced, neurotic TV writer who has grown weary of his day job. He longs to write a book, but lacks the courage to give up the financial security of his monthly paycheck. He is dating 17-year old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), a precocious high school student who claims to love him. Isaac feels uncomfortable with her affection, insisting that a relationship between them - a young girl who really hasn't started living and a middle-aged man - has no future. Isaac's best friend is Yale (Michael Murphy), whose happy marriage is being endangered by an affair he's having with Mary (Diane Keaton). Eventually, Isaac and Mary meet, and they prove to be as incompatible as any two people who have been tossed together by fate. She starts things off by trashing his taste in art, then follows it up by making deprecating statements about his favorite director, Ingmar Bergman. But, like oil and vinegar when shaken up, they complement each other. The initial disdain morphs into friendship, then something more. But Isaac is reluctant to take matters further until Yale decides that he can no longer be unfaithful to his wife and breaks it off with Mary.
There are three kinds of Woody Allen movies: the comedies, the dramas, and the hybrids. Manhattan, which many critics believe to be Allen's most complete motion picture, belongs solidly in the third category - it has plenty of humorous lines to go along with darker, more "real" subject matter. In addition to being a romantic comedy/social commentary, Manhattan serves as Woody Allen's valentine to the city he calls home. The opening montage paints a portrait that is both ordinary and sublime: life in the big city. If Manhattan was only a romantic comedy, it would be a very good one, but the fact that the movie has so much more ambition than the "average" entry into the genre makes it an extraordinary example of the fusion of entertainment and art. This is Allen in peak form, deftly mastering and combining the diverse threads of romance, drama, and comedy - and all against a black-and-white backdrop that makes us wonder why color is such a coveted characteristic in modern motion pictures.
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