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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You Have To Have A Little Faith In People, 28 Feb. 2014
This review is from: Manhattan [DVD] [1979] (DVD)
..so observes Mariel Hemingway’s (now) 18-year old student, Tracy, to Woody Allen’s 'failing’ writer, Isaac Davis, to conclude Allen’s 1979 masterpiece in what is, for me, one of cinema’s greatest endings. It’s a nice observation, as well, since Isaac (and, no doubt, co-screenwriter Allen) finally realises that (thus far, at least) Tracy has shown herself to be the most trustworthy of all his close confidants. In fact, Manhattan wears its romantic heart on its sleeve and, whilst it blends typical Allen gags (there are as many great one-liners here as in any of his films) with the more ‘sophisticated’ film-making began with Annie Hall (and continued through the likes of Crimes And Misdemeanours, Hannah And Her Sisters and Stardust Memories), for me, it is equally memorable for its many moments of poignant romance (indeed Allen puts in probably his finest all-round acting turn here).

Of course, Manhattan is a magnificent sensorial experience as well – one that can probably be at least partially appreciated by those who are not fans of 'Allen comedy’ – with Gordon Willis’ superb black-and-white cinematography (e.g. the stunning dawn shot of Isaac and Diane Keaton’s Mary Wilkie sitting on a park bench beside the Brooklyn Bridge as Someone To Watch Over Me plays in the background) and with Allen’s chosen Gershwin score (which, it could be argued, is an 'easy win’ for the film, but is nonetheless perfectly suited and, of course, exquisitely romantic). These 'technical’ elements add much to what is otherwise relatively standard Allen fare – an episodic tale of the New York 'media middle classes’, their relationships and hang-ups, but with much perceptive (and hilarious) observations on artistic ambition, neuroses, loyalty, pretence and guilt (all overlaid with Allen’s 'New York Jewish tinge’).

Acting-wise, Allen’s film is pretty much flawless. Keaton is superb as the snooty, uptight, insecure fellow writer Mary ('I’m just from Philadelphia, I believe in God’), erstwhile 'mistress’ of Isaac’s 'best friend’, Michael Murphy’s college professor, Yale Pollack, and for whom Isaac falls. Meryl Streep turns in a nice cameo as Isaac’s (second) divorced wife (and who, to her ex-‘s great embarrassment, is writing a set of 'intimate memoires’), whilst Anne Byrne is also very good in the straight role as Yale’s cuckolded wife, Emily. But the other particularly impressive turn here is that of 17-year old Hemingway as the street-smart, but vulnerable, student, Tracy – of course, as with many of Allen’s on-screen relationships, one has to suspend disbelief, but Hemingway is excellent here in this role (a role that was always likely to be a career-topping one).

There are, of course, too many great gags to list, but particularly memorable scenes (for me) include Isaac and Mary’s art gallery meeting ('negative capability’), Mary 'trashing’ Isaac’s 'heroes’ (Mahler, van Gogh, Jung, Fitzgerald, Bruce, Mailer, Mozart, Bergman), Isaac arguing with his TV production crew over 'what’s funny’, Isaac and Tracy in bed ('it sounds like a man sawing a trumpet in half’) and Isaac and Yale’s 'showdown' (framed against a prehistoric human skeleton, 'you think you’re God’, 'I gotta model myself after someone’).

I have always regarded Manhattan as Allen’s most affectionate tribute to his home city (narrowly surpassing the likes of Radio Days, Broadway Danny Rose and Play It Again Sam), a view reinforced for me by the film’s stunning opening to Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue and it is (again) the slow-build of Gershwin’s music (He Loves And She Loves, this time) which makes Isaac’s final 'last-minute dash’ such a poignant moment of cinematic brilliance. And although I know Allen himself doesn’t have much time for Manhattan, he should (perhaps) be reassured by the fact that his ambition of being remembered as a maker of (at least some) great films is, for me, firmly secured by Manhattan.
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