I can’t think of a more charming and thought provoking movie about dating and relationships than Manhattan. It possesses such realistic dialogue and probing commentary on the desperate nature of human beings in search of love. Also it demonstrates Woody’s unrequited love for Manhattan, which is firmly stated in the introductory narration. Although I haven’t been to Manhattan, I have read numerous accounts stating that Woody Allen has captured the essence of Manhattan in this movie. This is what it feels like. Through Allen’s lenses we are also seeing what a City is supposed to be.
I was amused to see Woody Allen’s character Isaac sticking up for the ‘only genius’ he knows in Cinema – Ingmar Bergman. Referring to a new acquaintance who is the lover of his best friend, Isaac says to his 17 year old girlfriend, ‘…if she had made one more remark about Bergman, I would’ve knocked her other contact lens out.’ The dialogue is so sharp that it’s always one step ahead of the viewer. You really don’t know where the next frenetic thought of Allen will take you. Just don’t expect someone to shrug their shoulders, slap their forehead and with mid-rising intonation say d’uh! It’s not that kind of comedy. It’s not the show, ‘Friends’. Manhattan contains perplexing and often dark adult humor. Here’s a small excerpt from this incredible script:
Isaac I got a divorce because my ex-wife left me for another woman. Okay?
Mary (Reacting) Really?
Isaac (Nodding his head) Mm-hm.
Mary God, that must’ve been really demoralizing.
Isaac (Shrugging) Tsch. Well, I don’t know, I thought I took it rather well under the circumstances.
Mary (Still reacting, shaking her head) Phew-wee.
Isaac I tried to run ’em both over with a car.
Mary I can imagine. I mean, that’s incredible sexual humiliation. It’s enough to turn you off of women.
Isaac (Shrugging) Well . . .
Mary And I think it accounts for the little girl.
Isaac Well. . . Hey, the little girl is fine. Jesus, she’s— What’s with— what’s with “the little girl”?
Mary Oh, sure, I understand, believe me. Sixteen years old and no possible threat at all.
Isaac Uh-huh, she’s seventeen. She’s gonna be eight— You know, sometimes you have a-a losing personality, Mary.
Mary Hey, I’m honest. What do you want? I say what’s on my mind. And if you can’t take it—well, then, fuck off.
Isaac And I like the way you express yourself too.
Mary laughs. The sounds of traffic are heard as they continue to walk through the lamp-lit streets.
Isaac You know, it’s pithy, yet degenerate. You get many dates? I don’t think so.
The other aspect of Manhattan which struck me was just how influential it must have been on the hugely successful 90’s sit com Seinfeld and the subsequent Larry David self mockumentary, Curb your Enthusiasm. The characterizations and conversation themes are just too similar. Elaine Benes is almost a direct copy of Diane Keating’s ‘Mary’. Her mannerisms, modern feminism attitude and even her outfits have an uncanny resemblance to Allen’s Mary. Jason Alexander did say in the Seinfeld Chronicles that when he auditioned he did basically a straight up imitation of Woody Allen. ‘It was all Woody’ or words to that effect.
Woody Allen is a wonderful actor. It wasn’t something I had fully appreciated until seeing this. The real eye opener for me however was his 17 year old lover played by Mariel Hemmingway. Her sensitivity and vulnerability shone so brightly – a truly incredible and touching performance, and from one so young.
Oh and other things like the irrepressibly beautiful soundtrack and cinematography. Well that would require another review to mention the superlatives of each.
I found Manhattan a completely different movie to Annie Hall, but in an improved sense. The story seemed to have more vigor and I admired the acting a heck of a lot more. I might have been expecting too much from Annie since it was my first Allen movie and it had been parodied to death. I need to see both movies again to be more conclusive about which I like better. One thing is for certain, ‘Manhattan’ is a fantastic dating movie. If you want something to provoke an insightful relationship conversation with your better half, then Manhattan is it! I’m looking forward to seeing Hannah and her Sisters next. Supposedly Allen didn’t like Manhattan, which surprises me, but I wonder was it because its totality or essence was a bit close to home? I’ve noticed his more recent movies involve stories which far less encapsulate an ‘introspective’ Woody and more driven towards showcasing other uniquely neurotic characters and harder driven stories and plots.
It’s this Jewish humour (is this the Lenny Bruce genre everyone talks about?), which undoubtedly is my favourite style of humour because it is so witty and introspective and doesn’t belittle the audience’s intelligence…. on the contrary.
The verdict? This is essential ‘Allen’, me thinks.