Manhattan

1979, Movie, R, 96 mins

Review

MANHATTAN
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Deft comedy set in a neurotic town. People may argue about the relative merits of ANNIE HALL (which took Oscars for Best Picture, Direction, Actress, and Screenplay) vis-a-vis MANHATTAN, which won nothing but is a better and more fully realized film. By this time Allen had forsworn the glib one-liner and spent more time developing well-rounded characters. Allen is Isaac, a well-known TV scribe fed up with the medium who wants to use his talent to amuse in another fashion. He knows how to make people laugh, but can he move them? Isaac sometimes lives with teenaged drama student Tracy (Hemingway), but feelings of guilt over their age difference lead him to try to end their relationship. He commiserates with best friend Yale (Murphy), who is cheating on his own wife Emily (Byrne) with Mary (Keaton). Yale introduces Isaac to Mary, and though he finds her annoying and aggressive, Isaac is also fascinated by her. He comes to realize that her pseudo-intellectual behavior is all a sham and that she's actually a lovely person playing the role of a "Manhattanite" a bit too well. Before Isaac begins having an affair with Mary himself, though, he must deal with his lesbian ex-wife's (Streep) book about their marriage and divorce entitled Marriage, Divorce, and Selfhood. Isaac tries to persuade her not to publish it, but she does and it's a huge hit; everyone in America now knows how weird Isaac is.

MANHATTAN is funny, though not as funny as some of Allen's earlier work. But it makes his earlier films seem shallow by comparison. Gershwin's music is the perfect accompaniment for the film. Gordon Willis' beautiful black-and-white cinematography reflects a sweet nostalgic sadness in keeping with both Isaac's gloom and Allen's romance with New York. Among the actors, MANHATTAN is stolen, rather surprisingly, by the appealing and assured Hemingway. In a small role, note Wallace Shawn, who has since distinguished himself as a writer for the stage and screen (MY DINNER WITH ANDRE) as well as an actor in several other films (ATLANTIC CITY). The producers petitioned to change the "R" rating to a "PG" but were turned down, mostly because of the content concerning the older man and the teenage girl. leave a comment

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