I can’t think of a more charming and thought provoking movie about dating and relationships than Manhattan. It possesses such rich 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 substantiated 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’; they say. Through Allen’s lenses we are seeing how the City is supposed to be portrayed.
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 and seems to be 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 ‘duh’! It’s not that kind of comedy. It’s not humor reminiscent of the sitcom ‘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 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 very different movie to Annie Hall. Manhattan seemed to have more bang for its buck 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 has been parodied to death. I need to see both movies again to be more certain about which I like more.
Oh and another thing; ‘Manhattan’ is a fantastic dating movie! If you want a movie to provoke an insightful relationship conversation with your better half, then Manhattan is it. Supposedly Allen didn’t like Manhattan, which surprises me, but I wonder if it was because its story and premise was a bit close to home? I’ve noticed his more recent personas encapsulate a less ‘introspective’ Woody and are driven towards showcasing other uniquely neurotic characters and more forceful stories and plots.
This Jewish humour is undoubtedly my favourite style of comedy because it is so witty and intricate and doesn’t belittle the audience’s intelligence.
The verdict on Manhattan? This is essential ‘Allen’, me thinks.