Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Mariel Hemingway, Diane Keaton, Meryl Streep

Despite the fact that I’ve now written about a hundred reviews for films from 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, I have not yet reviewed a Woody Allen movie. Oh, Woody Allen. You give me so many problems. He and I have a very love-hate relationship. Occasionally, I really love one of his movies. Most of the time, I rather hate them. So consider this review to be Part One of my Standard Woody Allen Rant, which shall no doubt repeat itself for nearly every one of his films in the book.

The plot of Manhattan is very typical Allen neurotic comedy. Isaac (Allen) is a forty-two year old television writer who is dating Tracy (Hemingway), a seventeen year old high school student. His ex-wife (Streep) left him for another woman and is now writing a book about the breakup. He falls in love with his married best friend’s mistress Mary (Keaton), which of course means that there is a great deal of hemming and hawing and complaining about relationships. Whiny neuroticism ensues.

This movie really frustrates me because in Manhattan, Allen made a drop dead gorgeous film with a brilliant score and phenomenal lighting, filled with the most obnoxious characters imaginable. While most of Allen’s standard comedies are flat out annoying to me, I can’t help but marvel a little at this one. I honestly consider it one of the most beautiful films ever made. Allen shot it in black and white, but it’s a gauzy, hazy black and white. There is nothing stark about it. It’s reminiscent of the great romances of the thirties, where the black and white just seemed to make everything and everybody more luminous. Some of the lighting and shot compositions made me think of Orson Welles; the early scene where Isaac talks to Tracy in his apartment when she is lit by an overhead light on the left and the spiral staircase is lit on the right. It’s so beautiful, and that shot is just one of many that left me breathless. This is a flat out stunning film.

Perhaps I should watch this movie on mute, because as soon as characters start talking, I start looking around for something to hurl at them to get them to shut up. They are whiny and pretentious and self-important jackasses who do nothing but make pseudo-intellectual statements about how “Bergman is so out” and how they are making movies about orgasms. SHUT THE FUCK UP. I detest this sort of Allen dialogue. It is superficially shocking, which means it is not shocking in the least. I do not want to watch Keaton and Allen talk about having stupidly self-aware sex. Not in the least. And I have this problem with nearly every Allen comedy.

Let’s talk about which character I detest most, because that’s a real horserace. First we have contestant number one: Mary, as portrayed by Diane Keaton. She is so unrelentingly pretentious that I hate her from the get go, talking about how van Gogh is a poser and finding the art exhibit to be derivative, except for the steel cube. I get the feeling I’m supposed to dislike her, but then the unbelievable happens: all the men in the film fall wildly in love with her. So, she’s purposely unbearable, but then apparently wildly attractive? No. Just plain N-O. Contestant number two: Isaac, aka Woody Allen. Oh goodness, I hate Woody Allen’s onscreen persona. He’s completely self-destructive. He claims to be in an interesting relationship, but then throws it away for a sham of a woman. And of course, we have the ridiculous vanity of Allen himself, casting himself as the lover or former lover of Mariel Hemingway, Diane Keaton, and Meryl Streep. I do not understand this in the slightest, I do not buy it in the slightest, and it completely takes me out of the film. I am so bothered by the sheer ego of this man that I cannot get past it to get into the film. And lastly, we have idiotic little Tracy, played by Mariel Hemingway. The very fact that she plays a 17-year-old in a relationship with 42-year-old Isaac is so icky and gross and ludicrous, I cannot get past THAT. The sight of the two of them together in bed doesn’t make me laugh, it makes me want to call the cops on him. The fact that he based this off an actual relationship he had with a high school student just multiplies the squicky factor by about a hundred. Hemingway is not a very strong actress, so watching her trying to play a teenager with an “old soul” is laughable. And, spoilers, I detest that her character even considers giving up the opportunity of a lifetime in order to get back in bed with Isaac. Not an old soul at all. I hope that character regrets getting back with him for the rest of her life.

Yes, this movie has its slightly comic moments. There is the occasional bit, line, or sight gag that made me consider smiling. While I completely fail to see the supposedly brilliant humor in Woody Allen’s work, I suppose I can see how it would appeal to a very select class of individuals. But for the life of me, I cannot see how anyone other than Allen himself would be amused by this egotistical whiny claptrap.

To end on a slightly positive note, I also want to mention the soundtrack of this movie. It’s completely taken from George Gershwin, and that, combined with the lush black and white cinematography, give the film a distinct thirties vibe. I love the soundtrack of this movie. Woody Allen “sprinting” to get Tracy back at the end of the film accompanied by “Strike Up the Band” is damn perfect.

I wish I could take the gorgeous look of the film and the fantastic soundtrack of the film and insert different characters into it, likeable characters, people who aren’t so damn infuriating. I’m so at odds with this film.

In order to write this piece, I have now watched Manhattan twice. Trust me, it will be my last. My tolerance for “classic” Woody Allen is extraordinarily low.

Arbitrary Rating: 5/10. I’m going to split the difference here. 10/10 for visual elements and awesomely perfect soundtrack, 0/10 for characters, script, and plot.


  1. Passionate review! Made for a very entertaining read. I don't remember much about this film (I think I saw it when I was the same age as Tracy) other than I couldn't distinguish it from any other Woody Allen film I'd seen at the point. I look forward to your opinions on Allen's other work :)

    1. Yeah, when I don't like something, I get ranty, and when I get ranty, my writing gets veeeerrrrry sarcastic.

      I have problems distinguishing the plot of this movie from those of all other "classic Woody Allen comedies." It's the same, it's always the same. At least this movie LOOKS different from his other stuff.

      I'll have to patiently mete out my remaining Woody Allen reviews; my blood pressure can only take so much at a single time.

  2. It sounds like you had the same reaction to the characters in this as I did to the characters in Annie Hall. In fact, my bad experiences with Annie Hall made me shy away from Manhattan for a long time. When I finally did watch it, guess what? I liked it quite a bit. I was able to get past Allen's character and enjoy all the other things about the movie.

    "They are whiny and pretentious and self-important jackasses who do nothing but make pseudo-intellectual statements about how “Bergman is so out” and how they are making movies about orgasms. SHUT THE FUCK UP."

    Oops. You're not gonna like my next movie category that I just did the parent post for. :-)

    By the way, you asked a question on Steve's blog about Cache. I replied there, but I don't know if you'll see it. Cache was added in the 2006 Edition of the book, and removed in 2007, so it only appeared that one year. Yesterday, I added a page with the comprehensive differences in each edition on the wiki that Adolytsi and I created, so you may want to check it out.

    1. Thanks for the heads up on the wiki - I'll definitely check it out. I figured that Cache was probably only in one edition.

      I need to check out your list! Trust me, I have a feeling it will be better than what I think of this film!

      Although I certainly didn't like this movie, I will definitely agree with you on Annie Hall. I think that was the first classic Woody Allen film I ever saw, and I was expecting something amazing because it was so hyped up. Talk about a bewildering letdown.