“Chapter One: He was too romantic about Manhattan, as he was about everything else. “ – Manhattan, Dir. Wood Allen
Manhattan, viewed as one Woody Allen's masterpieces, yet he notoriously tried to stop the release of the film. This may have been due to the subject matter being a little too personal or it may really have been that Allen wasn’t happy with the end result, so he has said he interviews. He has also stated that he doesn’t have the same affection for the film as the public does. Which seems odd as it is in part an affectionate love letter to Manhattan itself, as well as a ‘Woody Allen-esque’ romantic comedy, complete with awkward love triangle, couples with questionable age gaps, amusing arguments and a matter of fact attitude to sore subjects. As I slowly get through the Woody Allen film catalogue, Manhattan feels like the Woody Allen film.
Centering on a small group of characters and the relationships they have with each other, Woody Allen is Issac, a 42-year-old television writer trying to write a novel. After two failed marriages he is now content, dating 17-year-old Tracy. His close friends, marriage couple Yale and Emily seems happy too, although Emily wants children but Yale makes excuses for why they can’t. Issac’s second ex-wife Jill, who cheated on him with a woman, has written a book about their relationship, including all their private moments together, which upsets him, no end. Yale is having an affair with Mary, a culture snob who really doesn’t know what she’s doing. There is an obvious attraction between Issac and Mary but complications with their love life stall their relationship.
Throughout the ups and downs, the joys and woes of these people’s love lives, Manhattan is the only constant feature. Serving as a backdrop, atmosphere as well as inspiration, it remains picturesque and unspoiled by the events of the story. In the end, it is the only thing that Issac can rely on.
Woody Allen’s Issac is a romantic. He claims to have never cheated on his wives and those they were the ones who broke up their marriages. He even tries to do the right thing before he starts a romantic relationship with Mary. He says several times to Tracy that she shouldn’t settle down and should move on from him and live her life. He makes an effort with his son and is even (eventually) on good terms with his ex-wife Jill despite her ‘tell all’ novel. He is down on his luck when he quits his job and tries to write his own novel. You want him to succeed, especially after his girlfriend and so-called friend betray him. BUT at the same time, it’s difficult to watch a 42-year-old man date a 17-year-old girl and have everyone accept the situation.
The fact that everyone else is perfectly fine with this relationship makes it uncomfortable; especially knowing what Allen’s real life was and is like. It was also off putting that no one else in the film found this odd or disturbing. The age gap aside, the fact that Yale has cheated on his wife before AND lures Mary away from Issac and again everyone barely says anything is also irksome. No one reacts normally to any big development.
Aside from awkward age gaps, Diane Keaton’s character was rather disappointing. Meant to be the woman desired by both men in the film, she is at first insufferable with her polar opposite opinions that seem to be said to annoy on purpose but as she slowly eases herself into the company of Issac, she shows her more interesting side, the side that owns an adorable dog named Waffles. But her constant justifications for her poor decisions include her whining on about how young and beautiful she is are without charm. It’s a shame she isn’t more assertive or modest.
Leaving negative points behind, there are some iconic scenes not to be missed, including the famous scene by the bridge that was filmed perfectly in the early hours of a morning. There is beauty in this one shot that encapsulates the romantic feeling of the film without there being a romantic scene taking place. Another favourite scene of mine is in the planetarium when Issac and Mary run for shelter from the rain. Being in a dark room amongst space and time, you start to gage the characters feeling for one another and the tension can be cut with a knife. A rare perfect moment within the film proving that less is more.
Hailed as one the best, although I’d have to disagree, if you’re new to Woody Allen, Manhattan is a great place to start. And if you are a long time Woody Allen enthusiast, nothing beats the big screen and a chance to see Manhattan up there, in all its monochrome glory, shouldn’t be missed.
Manhattan is currently being screened around the UK at various cinemas thanks to Park Circus. Check out where and when HERE.
For all the Londoners out there, screening at BFI Southbank over June and July: its Dustin Hoffman season!
As Dustin Hoffman, the ‘unlikely’ leading man, turns 80 this year we celebrate his stellar career. Highlights range from The Graduate to Tootsie, from All The President’s Men to Kramer v. Kramer.
“I grew up thinking a movie star had to be like Rock Hudson or Tab Hunter, certainly nobody in any way like me.”
Want to see Hoffman’s best characters? BFI are offering 2 tickets for the price of 1! Simply quote HONEST241 when booking.