Woody Allen: Manhattan

June is Woody Allen month at Friday Film Review and we begin with Allen’s love letter to his hometown, Manhattan.

MANHATTAN (1979)
Starring Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Michael Murphy and Mariel Hemingway
Co-Written and Directed by Woody Allen
Distributed by United Artists
96 minutes

I’ve been thinking about doing a Woody Allen month for awhile now. The truth is I didn’t think I could pull it off. In film school, I never mastered the pseudo intellectual babble that usually took place when we watched films by an auteur like Allen.

I’ve decided to give it a go anyways because while I may not be smart enough to sound like a completely pretentious film nerd, Allen’s films have exactly the qualities that I like to showcase on this blog: great writing, great acting and of course, great directing.

It took me awhile to discover Manhattan. For a long time, I was perfectly content to just watch Annie Hall (1977) on a continuous loop. While I must admit that I have yet to find another Allen film that for me is quite as perfect as Annie is, this film comes pretty darn close

First off, this is one of the most beautifully shot films of all time. Shot in black and white, New York City becomes this strange and beautiful dream world, a place where just maybe all your dreams really will come true. If you never wanted to run away to New York City before, you will after seeing the opening sequence of this film.

Allen stars as well, the same character he does in all of his other movies, a neurotic divorced New Yorker who’s looking for love. While maybe by the time Scoop (2006) came around the “Allen” character got old, in the seventies he somehow managed to make it seem fresh every time.

In Manhattan, he’s Isaac, a television writer and aspiring novelist who’s never gotten over the fact that his ex-wife (a hilarious cameo by the queen of film actresses Meryl Streep) left him for another woman. One of the ways he copes with this is by dating 17-year-old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway).

One would assume that the teenager would be the immature one in the relationship, but Tracy often proves that she has a much better head on her shoulders then her 40-something boyfriend. Hemingway gives Tracy the perfect balance of innocence and maturity and really makes you believe that this beautiful girl would love a nut job like Isaac.

While in reality the Isaac-Tracy relationship would never really have a chance, as an audience you become so invested in the Tracy character that it breaks your heart when Isaac ends it to date journalist Mary (Diane Keaton). It’s strange for me to even imagine Keaton as any other character but Annie Hall sometimes, but here she’s perfect as a woman who’s even more screwed up then Isaac.

In the end Manhattan is less about romantic love and more about the love for one for one of the most famous cities in the world. It’s about the sheer joy that comes from getting coffee at any hour of the day, getting to go to the best museums and parties, about watching the sunrise by the Manhattan bridge. Relationships may come and go, but Isaac’s love of New York City will last forever.

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