Montreal Film Journal

MANHATTAN

Oddly, this film is both absolutely amazing and weirdly unfulfiling. On the plus side, this might be Woody Allen's greatest achievement as a director. Through gorgeous black & white photography and an enchanting Gershwin score, he turns the rather gritty New York into an incredibly romantic city. The film opens with Rhapsody in Blue on gorgeous shots of Manhattan scenery, and it feels like the bases of a masterpiece. And when Allen's voice comes over the soundtrack, we're convinced... or are we? The film wanders in familiar Woody territory. Allen plays his typical movie persona, the small, balding, neurotic Jew with glasses who's as smart and talkative as he lacks confidence. Yet he has big dreams, and he's even willing to quit his rewarding job as a TV comedy writer to realize one: writing a great book.

Of course, like practically every of Allen's flicks, most of it revolves around his character and his intellectual friends' complicated love affairs. Woody's already twice divorced. His second ex-wife (Meryl Streep, in a part way too small) left him for another woman with whom she's raising their son. As if it wasn't humiliating enough, she wrote a book detailing their marriage and divorce. Woody's now seeing a 17 year old high school student enlighten by his culture and intelligence, but like always, Allen doesn't realize the luck he has. I mean, come on, the guy's a shabby, anemic neurotic and he still keeps on dumping beautiful and smart women who love him for reasons he might not know himself. Or maybe it's just, as he puts it in the first scene of "Annie Hall", that he wouldn't want to be with a woman desperate enough to date him. And then there's his best friend Yale, a married man who's having an affair with Diane Keaton. And of course, Woody falls for her and things get complicated...

So far, if you've seen some of Allen's work, you probably think that this is typical Woody. Yet... I don't know, but the tone is kind of different than what you'd expect. Some moments are amusing, but overall, the film is surprisingly serious. It lacks the playfulness of "Annie Hall", but it's still a very good film. Allen is a keen observer of human nature and he truly has a ear for dialogue, and "Manhattan" is always interesting, especially the affair with the 17 year old (pure Woody, that). And as I said, the film is beautifully shot, and it feels like these classic Hollywood romances. It might be the most charming portrait of New York ever immortalized on film.