Manhattan (1979)


I guess you can’t fall in love in Brooklyn?

A neurotic writer named Isaac (Woody Allen), who was just recently dumped by his ex-wife (Meryl Streep) for another woman, is finding love in all the strangest places. Take for instance, the new gal he’s going out with: 17-year-old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway). Together, they surprisingly share a nice connection that’s built more upon the fact that she has plenty to learn with her life, but will spend whatever life she has now with him, that is, until she gets bored of his old-ass and goes for somebody younger and more nimble in the sack. However, it may take some by surprise that Isaac is in fact the one getting a bit bored with his jail-bait and is finding himself more and more attracted to his best friend’s mistress, Mary (Diane Keaton).

Here’s the quintessential, Woody Allen comedy that everybody loves and considers a masterpiece and yet, I have no idea why. Is it because I’m not from New York? Is it because I’ve never been involved with a person that’s 25-years-younger than me? Or simply, is it because I’ve already been spoiled by Annie Hall so close to this movie? I think it’s more of the latter, considering I watched Annie Hall literally two nights before I popped this in the VCR, but still, something doesn’t seem right with me and this movie, and I’ll try my hardest to explain why, even though it probably won’t come out the best way imaginable.

"For some reason, I feel a slight attraction to girl's way, way younger than me. Oh well, no reason to worry. It's probably just a phase."
“For some reason, I feel a slight attraction to girl’s way, way younger than me. Oh well, no reason to worry. It’s probably just a phase.”

Woody Allen’s knack for turning an actual issue like human-beings, the way they interact with one another, and best of all, love one another, into a thinking-piece as well as a bit of a joke, never loses it’s bite no matter how many years go by. It’s been 30 years since this flick came out, and you’d think that we’d all get bored and tired with the same old, richy-rich, New York-types that go way too into depth about art and philosophical ideas, and don’t think enough about other people’s feelings at the most opportune moments, but it surprisingly doesn’t. In fact, it’s still fresh and edgy even by today’s standards, which is mainly because I couldn’t tell you who “our version of Woody Allen” is right about now. I mean, the dude’s still making movies and whatnot, so I guess we sort of have to wait till he croaks in order to crown the new leader in Jewish, neurotic comedies, right?

As with most of Woody’s flick, it’s always interesting to listen to these people talk, no matter what the subject may be, and to see how each and every one respond to the other, which is used to great effect here. The movie isn’t as big as you may think, with maybe 6 or 7 actual main members of the cast getting more than a couple lines of actual dialogue, which means that there is plenty time for us to just get involved with these character’s lives, understand them, their problems, and what they’re going through whether it be a broken heart, broken mind, writer’s block, or a simple, mid-life crisis that can’t be solved by an inordinate amount of drugs. And that was all fine with me because Woody’s writing is always snappy, always entertaining, and always worth a listen, even when he seems to be reaching a bit farther with this material than you’d expect.

There’s a lot of talk about love and how it makes people lose their minds and the essence of reality, and nobody’s more guilty of that then Woody himself. Most of his movies, in fact, feature him swooning over the idea of love, making things up in his mind about it, and getting a bit too carried away. However, that’s the darker side of love that Woody is more than happy to explore, but here, he’s surprisingly a little less cynical about love and probably more hopeful. Rather than leaving us on a depressing note that makes us question the person we lay next to be with every night, it makes us wonder whether we should have more faith in love, or human-beings for that matter. We’re always so used to blaming others for being so idiotic with even the most simplest tasks like keeping a relationship afloat, when we always forget to hold out some hope just in case they don’t screw it up. Woody’s always a bit mean with his views and opinions about the idea of love and whether or not it’s ever-lasting for all of the reasons we may think, but he shows that he was growing softer in his older age and better yet, was getting a little sweeter as well.

Because come to think of it: It was only a matter of time until he met a little lady named Mia. And then, shortly after that, it was only a matter of time until he met another little lady, this time, named Soon-Yi.

Nothing strange here at all. It's just a dude and his granddaughter out and about.
Nothing strange here at all. It’s just a dude and his granddaughter out and about.

Some of you may be wondering why I chose to bring this up, considering that it’s all been done to death by now whenever the name “Woody Allen” gets mentioned anywhere, but seeing this plot and realizing that it was about 13 years earlier before what actually happened in real-life, takes it on for a whole other spin that’s very, very disturbing once you get to thinking about it. Woody’s character gets mixed-up with this 17-year-old, and it’s never explained how or why, we are just dropped-down in the middle of it occurring/blossoming and are told to accept it for what it is. If it was any other writer/director at work, it probably would have been way too creepy to even get by, but somehow the man makes it work because he has a certain amount of grace and skillfulness to showing it that’s more about the actual love part, and not about the age part, even if it is too hard to not think about the latter when you think of the former. Or maybe it’s just me, I don’t know.

Anyway, age problems aside, Woody’s great in this role because he does everything we know and love him for, and it never gets old. Mariel Hemingway, on the other hand, really gets us going because she’s so good and so interesting as a female character, that it’s a shame we don’t get much more of her in this flick. Obviously Hemingway has that whole “young, innocent”-presence about her going on that works and makes us care for her, especially when Isaac shows a slight sign of boredom in their adventures as a couple, but she also shows some adult-like sensibilities in the way she acts and speaks that has me wondering just where the hell this dude found her, and why was she so attracted to him in the first place. I believed that they were a couple and could actually be together for awhile, but I didn’t understand why she was so naive when it came down to realizing that she has a full-life to live, but still shows that she’s smarter and more capable of making smarter decisions than half of the adults in this flick. I didn’t quite get it, and I think it was more of a screen-writing trick that Woody tried pulling so we wouldn’t pay too much attention to the creepiness of what was going on, but I latched on pretty quickly. Hemingway is still good, and so is everybody else, but maybe this is where Woody’s tricks started to show a bit more obvious now. Then again, maybe it’s just me. I don’t know.

Consensus: Though some consider Manhattan to be Woody Allen’s end-all, be-all masterpiece, some of it still rings a bit too false for me to really get engaged like everybody else, yet, the true and sweet sentiments are here for us to take in, and they work even after all of these years, if you can believe it or not.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

We've all seen the picture 100 times, but isn't just so damn pretty?
We’ve all seen the picture 100 times, but isn’t just so damn pretty?
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4 comments

  1. This is my 2nd favorite Woody Allen film. It’s just a truly gorgeous film with an amazing story that is funny and heartwarming. It’s got a great soundtrack and a cast that is just to die for.

  2. I think the back to back viewing might have sent you on a bit of a Woody Allen overload, especially when Annie Hall was the other pairing. I will concede to Manhattan not being quite as brilliant as people seem to think, but it is still a marvelous work. My favorite Allen film is Stardust Memories by a mile and I would highly recommend checking that out next.

  3. Just watched this the other night and agree with pretty much everything what you’re saying here. There are moments in this that are great but Annie Hall is a far superior film I think. Also, the relationship with the 17-year-old struck me as quite creepy as well, it’s never really justified or anything!

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