Isaac (Woody Allen) is a two-time divorcee, a New York writer with a girlfriend of seventeen called Tracy. He has now resigned from his job and is afraid his new book won’t make much money. In addition, one of his ex-wives (Meryl Streep) is writing a novel about their relationship. During all this, he meets the pretentious Mary (Diane Keaton) who is having an affair with the married Yale, and Isaac hates her straight away. But when they meet again, they fall for each other. This is a story about the morality of relationships and is age really such a big deal? And it truly asks, do people really need to be in a relationship to be happy? And is romance really dead or an old-fashioned concept in a new world, even in the 1970s?
While in Annie Hall, Allen plays the stargazing romantic who struggles to find meaning in the complexity of human relationships, his character Isaac is very different and his girlfriend is seventeen. And Tracy is probably the only character in the whole movie who doesn’t treat relationships like a material object. She’s the most mature woman in his life, and honestly one of the most mature female characters I’ve seen in any movie before. And it makes it even more infuriating that Isaac doesn’t treat her seriously because she’s seventeen. She is still a child in his eyes and puts her thoughts on things down to her age. Their relationship was never mean to be more than a swift fling and doesn’t feel guilty when he drops her.
I watched this film for the first time a few weeks ago after it was recommended by a friend. Manhattan was filmed in the picturesque black and white by cinematographer Gordon Willis (The Godfather Trilogy) who also worked on Allen’s Annie Hall. The black and white picture reminds me of films like Casablanca with that romantic 1940s feel, despite being set in big and beautiful New York City. “I like the rain. It washes memories off the sidewalk of life” and New York in the rain is really something. It’s really well-shot but I enjoyed Annie Hall more. Whilst Annie Hall is pure intelligent comedy mixed with realism, Manhattan is the same realism with more drama and less comedy. Well, that’s what I got out of it and I enjoyed it very much.
How I feel about films like Brooklyn and Carol is much the same how I feel about Allen’s romance films. They’re intelligent and easy to watch, but more importantly they don’t follow the tradition of too many American romance films being corny and frequently being unwatchable. RomComs can be excellent, they don’t need to be corny. No thanks to the likes of Adam Sandler and his ilk. Manhattan is great, not because of the story but more to do with its All About Eve-esque characters stabbing each other in the back. The New York neuroticness is on display. Everyone is cheating, making mistakes and ultimately making decisions that they think will make them happy when in fact they do anything but make them feel elated.
Manhattan is an ode to not just New York, but to art, culture, history, diversity and everything that defines New York. It’s the City of Dreams with every personality you could think of. Anything and everything happens in New York. And the wonderful writing and directing from Allen along with performances from Keaton, Hemingway, Allen and Streep just add to this film’s goodness. Manhattan is not my favourite Allen film but it’s freaking great one.