Manhattan: Movie Review

Manhattan (1979) is Woody Allen’s ninth directorial effort, his first shot in black and white. It’s a romantic comedy that follows all the rules of the genre, including the finale with the male protagonist running towards the female protagonist to declare his eternal love. Yet, it’s also an amazing movie and we could talk about it for hours and hours, so that this humble post of mine won’t do it justice…

Here’s the plot in a few words: Isaac (Woody Allen) is a 42-year-old television writer with two divorces behind him and currently in a relationship with 16-year-old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway). Isaac’s friend Yale (Michael Murphy) is married to Emily (Anne Byrne) and is cheating on her with the intelligent reporter Mary (Diane Keaton). The film shows all these turbulent relationships that intertwine in multiple ways throughout the story.

In addition to the usual brilliantly dialogues written by Allen (including multiple movie intros that demonstrate, as if needed, his love for New York), the images of Manhattan in black and white in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio are nothing short of breathtaking (kudos to cinematographer Gordon Willis). Infinite shots of this movie would deserve to be printed and framed! In fact, the iconic image of Woody Allen and Diane Keaton sitting on a bench in front of the Queensboro Bridge can be found in giant posters in most shops selling that type of stuff.

The themes of the film itself are worth discussing. First of all, Woody Allen wrote a character based on himself like never before: like Isaac, he too had written for television in the past, and at that time he too was in his forties and in a relationship with a 16-year-old (Babi Christina Engelhardt), although this became known only years after the movie was made. The joke about breaking sexual records if the police don’t break into the apartment is particularly disturbing, if you think about it.

Equally disturbing, perhaps, is how the choice of Woody Allen’s love interest had fallen on the beautiful Mariel Hemingway (nephew of the famous Ernest): Woody Allen liked her for her role in Lamont Johnson’s Lipstick two years earlier when she was just 14 years old. If we think about it for a moment, the thought process that led to choosing her is creepy!

But leaving aside these considerations on the questionable love choices of the great Woody Allen, it cannot be denied that Manhattan is a fascinating film, which keeps you glued to the screen from start to finish. The choice to use George Gershwin’s music for the soundtrack proved to be perfect and it’s impossible not to think of the film without starting to hum the famous Rhapsody in Blue. All the characters are interesting, and Woody Allen’s final monologue is amazing: he says that all these complicated love affairs are all false problems created in order not to think about the serious things in life. Indeed, these love stories seem to be made with the explicit intent of filling their empty lives as successful New York bourgeois! On the other hand, this could be said of many of the films made by the American director, and perhaps even of his own life (after all, his movies have always been about his own life, in a sense). Ciao!

PS: I didn’t get the joke about August Strindberg

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