Manhattan (1979)    2 Stars

“Woody Allen’s New Comedy Hit”


Manhattan (1979)

Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Mariel Hemingway

Synopsis: The life of a divorced television writer dating a teenage girl is further complicated when he falls in love with his best friend’s mistress.







It’s highly ironic that, of all the films he has made, Manhattan is Woody Allen’s least favourite. In fact, he disliked it so much that he begged the production company to shelve it, and even offered to make another film for free in return for them doing so. Given that Manhattan is one of Allen’s most commercially successful films to date, it raises questions about the differing expectations Allen and his fans have of his work, and perhaps explains why, with a few notable exceptions, his commercial success has declined considerably over the years.

Allen plays Isaac, a typically neurotic Woody Allen character, who is involved with an adoring 17-year-old girl, Tracy (Mariel Hemingway). His best friend, Yale (Michael Murphy) reveals to Isaac that he is cheating on his wife, and a short while later Isaac and Tracy run into Yale and his lover, Mary (Diane Keaton) in a museum. Initially, Isaac dislikes the outspoken Mary, but it’s not long before he warms to her, and when she and Yale part, embarks on an affair with her.

By the late 1970s Allen was moving away from his early ‘funny’ movies and towards a more introspective work that was heavily influenced by Ingmar Bergman, who even gets a name check here. It’s difficult to understand what Allen was trying to say with this one. For all their clever dialogue, most of Allen’s characters end up looking pretty shallow and uncertain of themselves – apart, that is, from the sweetly naive Tracy, who demonstrates a degree of – admittedly partly misinformed – maturity that the so-called grown-ups seem to lack. Perhaps this was what Allen was striving for, but that plea to the producers mentioned earlier suggests otherwise.

The film looks beautiful, thanks to Gordon Willis’s immaculate cinematography which manages to create a welcome sense of intimacy amongst the sprawling cityscape of New York. It’s also filled with memorable moments, not least of which is that marvellous, wordless, shot of Isaac, Tracy, Yale and his wife as they sit awkwardly in the theatre desperately trying to ignore the elephant in the room that is trampling all over them. And only Allen could wring laughs from a confrontational scene by having his character emote beside a simian skull. Also, check out that enigmatic expression on Allen’s face as the end credits intrude on his character’s lives; it’s inspired touches like that which has people discussing certain movies long after their initial release.

(Reviewed 14th March 2012)