Review #369 - Manhattan (1979)

Director:  Woody Allen
Cast:  Woody AllenDiane KeatonMichael Murphy, Mariel Hemingway, Meryl Streep
Plot:  A divorced New Yorker currently dating a high-schooler brings himself to look for love in the mistress of his best friend instead.

Genre:  Comedy / Drama / Romance
Awards:  Nom. for 2 Oscars - Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay.
Runtime:  96min
Rating:  PG for some sexual references. 


Woody Allen is perhaps the most prolific American filmmaker of his generation.  He has made more than forty films to date, averaging at an impressive rate of one film a year.  Annie Hall (1977) was the motion picture that fully established Allen as one of the most intelligent writer-directors America has ever produced.

He followed up with critical darlings such as The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), and Husbands and Wives (1992).  Though most of his films lost their resonance in the late '90s, Allen managed to revive his career with the box-office hit, Match Point (2005). 

Manhattan was made when Allen was at the top of his game.  Filmed in black-and-white, it is arguably the most well-loved film in the director’s filmography.  Manhattan is like a love letter to New York, the city he adores greatly.

It stars the man himself as Issac Davis, a 42-year-old Manhattan native with three big, complicated problems in his life:  First, he wants to quit his job which he hates.  Second, he is frustrated at his ex-wife who turned lesbian and is attempting to write and publish a tell-all book about their marriage.  Third, he wants to leave his current 17-year-old girlfriend whom he doesn’t love for Mary, his best friend’s sexy intellectual mistress. 

Manhattan explores Issac’s unfulfilled love life and his unorthodox methods in handling relationship issues in a city where the quest for true romance seems like an act of futility.  The film features an Oscar-nominated screenplay written by Allen and Marshall Brickman.  It keenly observes the responsive acuities of the human mind when it comes to tackle complex emotions like love and lust.  And it does so with a tremendous dose of astute humour and heartfelt drama. 

 is photographed by Gordon Willis who interestingly varies the composite of each scene from murky shots of tranquil New York to pristine shots of the hustle and bustle of downtown New York.  A few scenes are completely shot in the dark where the characters’ distinctive voices can only be identified;  some are shot in near darkness with occasional spots of illuminating light, building an atmosphere that intensifies the romanticism of the moment. 

Acting feels natural and unexaggerated.  The characters take a life on their own and are effective portrayals of smart New Yorkers who strangely entangle themselves in the complicated web of love, marriage, and sex.  

Woody Allen’s Manhattan is an example of a filmmaker working at the height of his powers delivering a motion picture of top-notch quality, perfectly blending humanity, humour, and substance in a film that is regarded to be one of the best and most enduring romantic comedies ever made.  A masterpiece!


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