Sunday, January 24, 2010

Manhattan (1979)

Pygmy Jews get all the ladies.

Woody Allen annoys me. I don't find his neurosis charming and I don't think he is a very good film-maker. However, he does have a particularly distinctive voice as a writer, actor and director and that, by itself, is worthy of some praise. Manhattan may be Allen's least annoying work. It's still full of his trademark voice and directorial style, but it doesn't devolve into senseless wackiness like some of his other films. Manhattan is, at it's best, a genuine attempt by Allen to make a movie about life and love in the city. At it's worst, it's a dull, wordy and surprisingly unprofound look at existence.

If the plot of Manhattan sounds familiar, don't be surprised. Like most of Allen's older films, it takes place in New York City and it involves the love lives of a handful of writers and intellectuals. It stars Allen in the leading role and Diane Keaton playing second fiddle. There's no reason to go beyond that. If you've seen one Woody Allen movie, you know the plot of all the rest. The film picked up a pair of Academy Award nominations and had a fair amount of box office success. It's been a critical darling for 30 years now, but I tend to agree with Allen on this one. He has constantly expressed confusion over how Manhattan became his most successful film and, while it's significantly better than the other Allen films I have seen, it generates substantially more praise than it deserves.

It's hard to discuss Woody Allen because he does so much in his films. Manhattan is written and directed by Allen and he stars in it. As an actor, I find him highly irritating, but his nervous energy would be impossible for most actors to replicate. This forces him into a lot of his own films since he loves to write about himself. In Manhattan, you see his best and worst sides. He is sometimes really funny, dropping impressive one liners, and other times he is just painfully dull. This inconsistency is attributed both to his performance and his writing. The movie has it's genuine and interesting moments, but it's mostly bogged down by Allen's intellectual babble. It feels like he writes with a thesaurus in his hands at all times. What's worse is that he tries to force this sort of dialog on the other characters as well, so what you end up with is a constant stream of pretentious nonsense. As a director, Allen is capable, but nothing to write home about. I will say that Manhattan suffers from some major editing issues though. Scenes are cut together very poorly, creating extended pauses between lines of dialog that should be on top of each other. I normally wouldn't notice something like this, but for some reason it stood out clearly in the film.

While Allen certainly isn't the masterful film-makers that some people make him out to be, he certainly makes a name for himself by being different. His voice, as a writer and actor, are unmistakable and his importance to the landscape of American cinema can't be understated. Even with all of it's shortcomings, I liked Manhattan. It's quirky energy was refreshing and it was often times extremely funny. This is best demonstrated in the really interesting opening to the film. I am a big fan of movies without opening credits and the opening of Manhattan sets the tone for the rest of the film marvelously. It felt a little weird initially, but I really grew to appreciate it. I can't say the same for the ending of the film though. While I like my movies a little open-ended, the ending of Manhattan doesn't feel right. There is too much left out in the open and it gives the film an incomplete feeling.

Manhattan is sometimes a painfully dull experience, but it's also funny and charming other times. It's a textbook example of inconsistent film making. Personally, I found the humor outweighed everything else by a substantial margin though. As far as I am concerned, Manhattan is Allen at his best. While that still doesn't make the movie particularly special, at least it's enjoyable.



The Movie Mistress said...

After reading your review, I'm beginning to think that maybe the reason I like Allen's more recent films so much more is because he isn't in them. All the energy and enthusiasm is still there but you don't have to listen to him whine.

I actually liked the ending of Manhattan. I thought it was incredibly realistic. Think about it- in any other formulated rom-com, Tracey would have decided to stay because he came groveling back to ask her to. Instead, we have a totally realistic ending to a completely unrealistic series of events- in real life, she would have said exactly what she did, that he's being ridiculous and that six months is not that long. The ending is incomplete because it's totally un-Hollywood.

Great review!

Alfindeol said...

That's a fair assessment of the ending. Personally, I think she should have told him off. He clearly deserves it ;p The ending just left me with a weird feeling, but I can see where it is effective.