Manhattan is a silky yet mournful film noir inspired tale of romance and regret. Filmed entirely in black and white, and with elements of classical and jazz the film is quite reflexive in it’s moods, as we see recurring hints of Ingmar Bergman once again. It’s partly autobiographical in nature, recapturing Allen’s experience dating a 17 year old student as a real life experience on film. Other than that, we see the same motifs and ideals revisited mainly about life and love but in a slightly darker context. The black and white, and the noirish feel relates to the film being quite involved in the idea of being faithful with a sinful affair and numerous deceptions occurring within it’s frame. This all relates to classical cinema, with it’s drama frequently featuring cheating wives and lying husbands, with love and betrayal being a prominent feature in Federico Fellini’s work, often cited as a big inspiration for Allen.
Isaac (Woody Allen) is a TV writer, and aspiring author suffering two failed marriages (Also the case with Allan himself) who feels self conscious about a relationship with a 17 year old girl named Tracy (Mariel Hemingway). Meanwhile his friend Yale (Michael Murphy) starts to cheat on his faithful wife of 12 years, with the alluringly neurotic Mary (Diane Keaton). Mary is kind of the polarizing character of the piece, upsetting the status quo of Yale’s marriage, as well as Isaac’s relationship with Tracy. She mirrors a kind of femme fatale character, not in the same kind of sense of mortal danger but a more subdued form, that of the homewrecker. Yale breaks up with Mary, only to find himself lusting after her even after setting up Isaac to be with Mary. They begin to see each other again, as Isaac realizes what a mistake he’s made as he goes to Tracy and tells her he did wrong. However the apology is ultimately too late as she leaves to London for an arts scholarship.
Manhattan is aptly named, full of looming shots of the landscape, Manhattan is a story about first world problems, a failed romance tale of the inner city. It’s billed as a comedy though the only real comedic value is found in Allen’s dialogue and nervous mannerisms as usual. Other than that Manhattan is a story firmly grounded in matters of the heart as opposed to elements of humor. Allan describes it as a combination of his previous two films Annie Hall (1977) and Interiors (1978) which is pretty accurate. It has the love and loss in a contemporary setting from Annie Hall, with the rather serious tones of stress, psychosis, and longing for purpose that Interiors encapsulates. Meryl Streep as scorned ex-wife Jill packs a punch, as she publishes a book detailing her failed marriage and how she ran off into the arms of a much superior female.
And with that, we approach one of the main underline themes of Manhattan. Freude is mentioned on quite a few occasions, and in that same vein of psychoanalysis Manhattan seems to contain a slight fear of emasculation. Women are seemingly well fulfilled within the frames of Manhattan, while the male characters are left confused and longing in fear they’ve made the wrong choice. Isaac has an overwhelming fear of the book Jill publishes, a fear of this power over him, particularly disheartened when she dishonorably mentions the lackluster sex and emotional connection within it’s pages. Mary is a sexual aggressor breaking up a marriage and a relationship, while forcing former friends to ultimately fight over her. In addition to this, before their break up it seems Yale’s wife often mentioned the notion of kids and how she wanted to have them. In this way the power in relationships is predominantly held by women, which particularly makes contextual sense in it’s homage to more classical cinema.
In it’s place in Allen’s overall filmography, Manhattan further cements Allen’s love of smooth and classical Jazz, the films of Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini, and the acting talents of Diane Keaton. However, foresight tells us it’d be the last major collaboration Woody Allen would do with Diane Keaton. Allen is smart in only casting women he has sexual chemistry with (He and Keaton dated for a year or so), and she would be soon replaced by Mia Farrow as Allen’s main female actor given their relationship which lasted from the early 80’s til the mid 90’s. At this point it can be said that Allen had moved away from the situational comedy genre, and cemented himself in more of an artistic more classical form of the romance film. Regardless of his spurning of the Academy with Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan would still be nominated for two awards, one for best original screenplay, and one for best supporting actress (Mariel Hemingway). In addition to winning the Baftas for best film, and best screenplay, and about 8 or so other nominations.
Manhattan is a good film, and ultimately a clear display that romantic comedies don’t have to be shallow in content or emotion, or haplessly generic and dull. It feels absurdly textured with its artistic shots, and its highly nostalgic tones and is good storytelling at the crux of it. Next time we’ll take a look at A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982) loosely based on Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night (1955). Thanks for tuning in, and please Follow/Comment/and Like if you feel inclined. Also follow me on @Sams_Reel_Views on Twitter. Cheers.