Manhattan (1979)
Manhattan (1979)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 36 min.

Release Date: April 25th, 1979 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Woody Allen Actors: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Michael Murphy, Mariel Hemingway, Meryl Streep, Anne Byrne, Karen Ludwig




elf-destructive, darkly sarcastic, slightly hostile, 42-year-old TV show writer Isaac Davis (Woody Allen) wants to write a book and isn’t afraid to quit his job to do it. His ex-wife Jill (Meryl Streep), who left him for another woman (Karen Ludwig), is writing a novel about their marriage and breakup, and the many embarrassing things she might include threaten the manic man to no end. He’s also conflicted over the problematic nature of his current relationship with 17-year-old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), a bright young woman who might be a great fit for him, but isn’t ideal for keeping up appearances at social outings. Being judged by his peers isn’t easy for Isaac.

His best friend Yale (Michael Murphy) is falling for Mary (Diane Keaton), a free-spirited, brainy, Philadelphia woman who speaks her mind and isn’t concerned at all about public opinions. Her predicament is that Yale is happily married and not likely to alter his spousal situation, which significantly feeds her insecurity. This opens up an opportunity for Isaac to step in and spend time with Mary, even though his first impression of her is less than agreeable and he wouldn’t think to steal her away from his pal.

As with all of Woody Allen’s features, “Manhattan” capitalizes on an abundance of smart dialogue, the occasional mumbling rant, and plenty of conversations revolving around everyday, miniscule dilemmas. The minutiae of the commonplace working man’s existence (making money and pursuing romantic relationships) and artistic, creative types floundering in the bustling competition of the big city are put under his interpretive microscope. He also brilliantly includes exchanges on art and cinema, mostly spoken with a cerebral, insightful, highly intellectual, rapid-fire approach, which is hilarious if one can keep up with his pace. It’s all rather naturalistic, as if only small pieces of it were scripted and the rest improvised on the spot by witty, verbal ad-libbers. It also explores typical midlife crises topics, including the meaning of life for a man confused about romance and sexuality, and his struggles to stay young and marketable. The simplicity is obvious, but so too is the power and impact of the love story and the breathtaking nature of finely tuned characters emoting quite believably – even if it’s notably neurotic.

A bit of pantomime-like visual humor makes its way into the picture, with an overstated, jazzy, Gerswhin orchestral score that helps to establish a rather Chaplin-esque tone. The black-and-white cinematography also works nicely, creating a visual mood that matches the concept of subtlety in the complex interplay and perfect nuances from the cast. In many scenes the camera doesn’t move, appearing as if it is accidentally witnessing the casual interaction of unsuspecting people. “Manhattan” is one of Woody Allen’s very best works, with a screenplay that stands out amongst his numerous projects as original (despite mimicking his real-life relationships) and satisfying, and with a superbly refreshing supporting performance by Mariel Hemingway, who received an Academy Award nomination for her efforts.

– Mike Massie

  • 10/10