Lowdown: Manhood got lost in Manhattan.
Best scene: Manhattan opens up with a black & white montage of glorified scenes from Manhattan to the sound of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (a concept later copied by Fantasia 2000). Seeing New York like this is the stuff of my childhood dreams; it always melts me.
Manhattan is perhaps the film with the most attractive poster ever. A few weeks ago, while lazily walking about on a weekend stroll, we stumbled on this shop that sells movie products (serious stuff like books and art, not trash merchandising). On their main window they had a huge poster for this Woody Allen 1979 made film, and I immediately short listed Manhattan as a film we should be watching soon. Well, with the aid of our local rental store we did just that. I have to say this, though: The poster is probably the best thing about the film.
Manhattan features a 40+ Allen as both director and star. This time around he is a divorced father whose ex-wife, Meryl Streep, has left him for a woman; frustration is obviously filling Allen up. As Manhattan starts, Allen is currently going out with a 17 year old (Mariel Hemingway); as much as Allen tries to explain to her that theirs is a casual relationship, she sees in him something she can’t get from men her age and falls for him. Next we are introduced to a long time married couple that are friends of Allan and whose relationship is under some stress because the wife wants children and the husband doesn’t. And then we learn that the husband is actually having an affair with Diane Keaton, but as the film develops it seems quite clear that Keaton is more suitable for Allen. And that’s where the regular complexities of the romantic comedy genre start developing, allowing Allen to fully exploit his built in mannerisms on film, as per the usual Allen style. Don’t ask me to define it; you should know what Allen’s style is.
It’s fair to say that Manhattan’s plot is as simple as things can be for a romantic comedy; we’ve seen it all before. For flavor, things get well wrapped up with a New York packaging. So, say, when a character goes for a drive, we watch the car from the outside so we can see the city around and not from the inside where we can see the character. The question is, does it really work? Do we have an innovative breakthrough in the field of romantic comedies on our hands here?
Well, my answer is no. Maybe we did have one back in 1979, but I can’t really tell. What I can tell is that Manhattan is a pretty un-involving film. Allen is portrayed as a character that has lost his manhood, perhaps as a tale of the era or a tale of the place; he is not, however, a character you can identify with. Hardly anyone in Manhattan is. The rest of the film, being a plain love triangle story (or rather a love square or a love pentagon), is still plain enough so that even Allen’s occasional joke – even the good ones, like “I think people should mate for life, like pigeons or Catholics” or “You think you're God? - I gotta model myself after someone” are not enough to keep the flame going, even for a shortish hour and a half long film.
Then there is this whole Manhattan affair. Sure, it provides a unique feel to the film, but is Manhattan so unique to the way the film develops? In my opinion, the answer is no. Manhattan could have easily been called Tel Aviv or Melbourne, to name just a couple of cities I am familiar enough with where the exact same plot could have taken place. As much as Manhattan creates an atmosphere for the film, that atmosphere is not absorbed enough in the film itself to make it a uniquely Manhattanish experience.
Last, but not least: I already spoke about how Manhattan is the stuff my dreams are made of. However, if you really go and visit Manhattan you would so there is a dark side to it, too – crime, corruption, dirt. It is therefore very important to be able to clearly distinguish between our dreams and what our imagination would like things to be on one hand and what reality is on the other. A glorified Manhattan is nice, sure, but it is also wishful thinking.
Picture quality: Between the softly shot black and white picture and the signs of age, the picture is on the compromised side of things.
Sound quality: In typical Allen fashion, Manhattan sports a mono soundtrack. And what a shame this is given the Gershwin soundtrack!
Overall: With all due respect, the plot is just too un-involving and Manhattan just passes by you. 2.5 out of 5 stars.