Review: Manhattan (1979)

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I don’t very much care for Manhattan the city, so we’ll see how this goes!

Written By: Woody Allen & Marshall Brickman
Directed By: Woody Allen

As I alluded to, well flat out said actually, in the tag line for this review, I am not a fan of Manhattan or New York. I don’t hate either, but the romanticism that has always accompanied the two has never done anything for me. I’m a Chicago native, I love this city, in my mind it’s better than Manhattan or New York could ever hope to be. I’ve never been taken by the supposed magical allure of Manhattan and don’t see myself ever falling for a city that I find remarkably unimpressive. I’ll take Wrigley Field, Bucktown, Harold’s Chicken Shack (although I’m a vegetarian now so not really), the Chicago skyline and all my great city has to offer, even the pretty bad parts of it, over anything found in Manhattan.

With the above being the case it’s safe to say that certain elements of Manhattan did fall flat with me, mainly the times when Allen does romanticize the city. The cinematography is gorgeous and pretty to look at with amazing depth to it, but the images don’t evoke any great feeling from me because I could care less about the subject matter. When Allen goes on jaunts in his film where the sole purpose it to aggrandize the city I lose interest, but luckily those moments aren’t as prevalent as one would think.

Outside of the city factor, Manhattan is a funny movie, as is typical of even lesser Allen films. The dialogue is witty and full of catchy one liners that always had me laughing. Allen’s response to an insult of Ingmar Bergman was quite comical, but that is what I have come to expect from Allen’s work. Something else I have come to expect that Manhattan delivers is more to the dialogue than just snappy one liners. The sentences flow into one another, it’s almost as if Allen and Brickman have double the sensory perception of the normal man. Before one line of dialogue has been finished the next one is flowing out from another character and what could be highly confusing ends up very intelligent and more often than not funny.

There’s an outer lightness to Manhattan, a sense that the story is feather light and more whimsical than anything else. It’s important that elements of the story feel like this because that helps to add more weight when you realize that this isn’t just a surface picture, but one that actually wants to take a hard look at love, maturity and relationships. The character of Tracy is the embodiment of this feeling. For the majority of the movie she is presented as light fare, someone not to be taken seriously. But in the final moments of the film she shows a maturity that we know was there all along, but it was hidden from us the false layer that is the surface of the rest of the characters and the film as a whole.

That false layer is a staple of adult life, it can take many forms and in Manhattan it is conveyed in shallow intellectual debates and immature musing from Allen and actions from Yale. As the movie progresses you realize how much Manhattan is about the journey and when Allen sits at the restaurant with Yale’s wife and realizes how good of a relationship he had with Tracy we realize that the false layer has been shattered. Tracy was always the one honest and true character in the film, she didn’t hide behind anything, she put who she was out there for everyone to see. The final thirty or so minutes of Manhattan are very revelatory, as the outer layers of all the characters are stripped away to reveal the truth that lay beneath. In the hands of a lesser director than Allen I don’t think such a turn and change of tone could have been pulled off, but Allen isn’t a lesser director for a reason.

The acting in Manhattan was uniformly good, with Mariel Hemingway as Tracy standing out the most, but in Manhattan the acting and the actors are second fiddle to the story and the emotion of the story as it unravels the modern city relationship and shows how flawed and fragile it really is. By the end of Manhattan Allen has revealed to us the truth that should be at the forefront of every relationship, that love can’t be forced, that honest love shouldn’t be pushed away, but that it does happen sometimes. The important thing is that when you do push that honest love away you learn from that experience, because only through learning and growing can healthy relationships ever be formed.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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