Manhattan – Woody Allen – Filmed in black and white and set to the musical palette of Gershwin, Manhattan retreads the neurotic intellect and troubled love of Annie Hall. Filmed two years later than Annie Hall (Manhattan was released in 1979) a more developed drama takes precedence over quick-fire wit. The central character dates a girl many years his junior (a college frequenting, homework writing 17year old by the name of ‘Tracey’, played brilliantly by Mariel Hemingway – to Woody Allen’s – ‘Isaac’- balding 42), realizing the relationship to be simply a fling he gets involved with a highly strung academic (Diane Keaton), with whom his best friend previously had an affair with; and so ensues an erratic love triangle, played out against the monochrome backdrop of a lovingly shot New York. It is hard to decide whether the drama of Isaac’s relationship with the younger girl is queasy Woody Allen wish fulfillment, or a more nuanced exploration of the tragic immaturity of a middle aged bachelor…or perhaps both. Either way the film feels less cohesively comical, the humour instead cutting through a leading narrative – as opposed to the quotable glee of Annie Hall in which it seemed witty precocity led the way – the love story often reduced to a vessel for memorable comedic observations.
There is one scene in Manhattan that I found particularly ambivalent in tone, or at least I found myself divided on how to receive its success. Having realized he is leading the 17 year old astray (the awkward and growing nature of her adolescent love threatens to puncture his libidinous, but ultimately superficial, fantasy) and having discovered the older Mary (Diane Keaton), he breaks up with her while sat at a bar. The timing of his break up is compounded by her presenting him with a sweet gift (a harmonica…to encourage him to pursue the musical aspirations he had previously mentioned in a warbling array of deprecating digressions…probably), thus she becomes even more vulnerable and compassionate in the face of his dismissal. The camera closely crops her crying face, the shot’s portrait simplicity interrupted by the fumbling hands of Isaac that fuss and stumble in an embarrassing attempt to comfort her. Somehow, with the aid of theatrical black and white rendering (painterly shadows and angelic white purity), this shot seemed to typify the uneasy chemistry of their relationship. We watch the older fumbling hands of Isaac, trying to find some semblance of authentic emotion, as Tracey is left expounding her earnest devotion. As Isaac continues to witter over the scene, the viewer (or at least me!) is left unsure of whether to read the scene through the bumblingly nervous humour of Woody Allen, or the tragic reality of their relationship. It is not entirely clear whether we are witnessing a narrative of jovial misogyny and a beta male incarnation of charmingly silly chauvinism…or whether in fact Manhattan embodies a more nuanced drama: providing a critique of the inherently adolescent male masquerading as an adult. 7/10