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MANHATTAN (1979) (****)

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At face value the film seems like a romantic comedy, but it really is more about loves lost and New York itself. If Paris is the city of love than I think this film is saying that New York is the city of longing.

The film starts off with Isaac Davis (Woody Allen, ZELIG) giving a narration about New York, but he changes it ever so often and paints a different image of New York. I think Isaac the character and Allen the director see the Big Apple as a magnificent city in turmoil with its greatness and beauty, and its moral and structural decay. Don’t let that heavy sounding description scare you. It serves as the backdrop for the characters.

Isaac is an insecure two-time divorcee who is currently dating a 17-year-old beauty named Tracy (Mariel Hemingway, PERSONAL BEST). Isaac seems rattled by her devotion to him because she is so young and he is so weary of romance. There whole relationship consists of him trying to distance himself from her because she may genuinely care for him. To mirror that relationship, we have Yale (Michael Murphy, PRIVATE PARTS) who is cheating on his wife, Emily (Anne Byrne, WHY WOULD I LIE?) with neurotic socialite, Mary (Diane Keaton, ANNIE HALL). Adding to Isaac's mental anguish, his ex-wife, Jill (Meryl Streep, ADAPTATION), who's now with a woman, is writing a tell-all book about her marriage with him. Eventually, Isaac and Mary hook up which is more because they have no one else to talk to. Isaac's break-up scene with Tracy is quite ironic — it's set in an ice cream pallor.

This film may be the most beautifully shot comedy I've ever seen with his wide black and white vistas of New York. There's a beautiful shot in Isaac's apartment with Tracy sitting in a pool of light. As with the scene in the planetarium, what happens to Isaac in the frame make him look like he is walking on the moon and within the stars. Take notice what happens to Isaac in the frame when Mary runs into her ex-husband (Wallace Shawn, PRINCESS BRIDE).

I still think ANNIE HALL is Allen's foremost masterpiece, but this film like the later wonderfully balances between wit and broad comedy. I loved Isaac's witty response to Yale commenting that Isaac thinks he's God and I equally loved the broader gag at the end when Isaac is running to meet up with the woman he loves. This film reminds me there was a time when Woody Allen made great films; I really hope he has others in him.

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Rick DeMott
Animation World Network
Creator of Rick's Flicks Picks