In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Allen has spent the majority of his long career trying to get his version of New York city onto the big screen, and none of his work does it better than this.”
“He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion. Eh uh, no, make that he, he romanticized it all out of proportion.”
Woody Allen made slapstick comedies in the late 60s and early 70s. He made deadpan, Swedish inspired dramas in 80s. And he’s spent the last 30 years oscillating from beloved “returns to form” and supposed “pale imitations of his former greatness”. But in over half a century of film making, it’s amazing to me that he made what are commonly regarded has his two absolute masterpieces in such close proximity to each other. There was Annie Hall in 1977, then, just two years later, he blew everyone away even more, with Manhattan.
Struggling with writers block, the voiceover of Isaac (Allen) tries to define his love for the titular city and his place in it. Cut to the 42 year old Isaac having dinner with 17 year old, high school student and girlfriend, Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), along with best friend couple, Yale (Michael Murphy) and Connie (Karol Ludwig). When Tracy goes to the bathroom, the other middle agers at the table are quick to let Isaac know that they think dating a teenager probably isn’t a great idea. Isaac agrees, and has no good reason to stay with Tracy. He even actively tries to convince her to move on to someone closer to her own age.
Things get more complicated when Yale reveals to Isaac that he’s been cheating on his wife with intellectual, Mary (Diane Keaton). Initially finding her snobbish and superior, Isaac can’t deny a certain attraction to the seemingly world wise Mary, compared to the innocence of Tracy. After quitting his unsatisfying job as a writer on a trashy TV show, Isaac goes through a series of life evaluating events and decisions regarding his professional life, love life, and issues with his ex-wife (Meryl Streep as Jill), who is about to release memoir detailing their sex life.
Watching Manhattan in 2016, after 20 years of accusations about Allen’s predilection for younger women and girls, it’s impossible not to find the relationship between the middle aged Isaac and teenaged Tracy uncomfortable and icky. And regardless of whether he’s guilty or not of any of the allegations leveled at him, it seems creepy to have written this story and cast himself in it in the first place. But here’s the thing, Mariel Hemingway is so amazing, it’s hard to see her character as being taken advantage of in any way. She’s innocent and fresh faced, but she also comes across as smart, confident and fully aware of her situation.
Shot in black and white and a gloriously wide aspect ratio, Manhattan is the kind of movie that looks so amazing, you don’t even need an interesting story or compelling performances to be entertained by it. Allen has spent the majority of his long career trying to get his version of New York city onto the big screen, and none of his work does it better than this. From the expansive aerial shots of central park and endless skyscrapers, to the crowded restaurants and shoebox apartments, cinematographer Gordon Willis makes every single shot of this movie a postcard worthy showcase of the city.