Eye For Film >> Movies >> Manhattan (1979) Film Review
Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald
"He adored New York. He romanticized it all out of proportion."
Woody Allen's love letter to his city, Manhattan, is a joyous stream of celebration. It's my favourite combination of his inimitable style, aching romanticism, sad melancholy defensiveness and quick-fire wit. I love the way the film's tone shifts so invisibly, and skillfully, that we are undeniably in the command of a master who stealthily aquires our focus. I didn't take a single note during this film.
Manhattan is also Allen's finest screenplay to date, filled with expostulating characters with relationship difficulties and hilarious interludes about the human condition. Allen plays Issac Davis, the quintessential artist with massive dreams and even more massive vulnerabilities. This is ideally showcased in his opening voice-over: six different openings to a gnashingly unwritten book. Each purple-prose effort at his Chapter One begins with a confident voice which rapidly grows ever more neurotic until he's wrestling his own words into quicksand.
This is cut over a hundred living postcard shots over Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Life in the big city, a world of epic dreamers - a black and white vision that could only ever exist in the eyes of someone standing outside it, looking in. He often reuses this beautiful Gordon Willis photography as pillow sequences - short interludes which tie his story together. It's often forceful, almost like the elaboration of a liar.
Issac - in a signature paper-thin Woody persona disguise - writes comedy for television, and is dating a 17 year old high school student, Tracy (Mariel Hemingway) who loves him, but he's uncomfortable loving her back. Either due to her age - "I'm dating a girl, wherein, I can beat up her father." - or that selfishly, she is not special enough to command his love. Through his married friend Yale (a terrific, understated Michael Murphy), he meets Mary Wilke, a ditzy yet fierce intellectual whom he falls for in a dizzying way.
These characters mingle and exchange beds for a while, and all the while we enjoy their company. This is thanks to the often laugh-out-loud situations and the way Allen directs and plays his characters to the actors' strengths - his own Isaac frets, worries and dryly witticises about all and sundry - such as the brown water in his new apartment. Tracy epitomises innocence, energy and precocious ignorance, while soaking up Isaac's revelation with a line reading that hits with the force of an anvil. When Hemingway croaks "Now I don't feel so good", your heart breaks at its simplicity.
Adultery and relationships have rarely been so interesting, or so optimistically human.Reviewed on: 11 Dec 2006