Saturday, January 17, 2004

REVIEW: Manhattan

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 14 January 2004 at the Brattle Theater (Snubbed! - Best Picture)

It's almost gotten to the point where I dread the Brattle showing old Woody Allen movies - it's hard not to look at them and then wonder just what the hell has happened to the guy in recent years. I mean, sure, we know what has happened to him, but how does one fall, creatively, from something as good as Manhattan to something as wretched as Anything Else, especially when the two are representative (if not typical) of his work at the time?

There's genius in Manhattan. Certainly, at times, it's a little much - the characters' discussions of art and philosophy often come off as the writers trying to show us how smart they are via their characters (doesn't it always?), but it at least doesn't sound horribly dated. There's a great silent-movie feel to the opening shots of the city, though, even as Woody's character tries to start his novel in voice-over. The composition of the images is much more interesting that anything Allen has done lately, and he makes wonderful use of both the widescreen canvas and black-and-white stock. And it's funny - Allen, back then, was able to walk a fine line, and say things that were both intellectual and joe six-pack at the same time. Telling a group of partygoers how a scathing editorial in the New York Times really doesn't make a point the way bricks and baseball bats do is just plain entertaining, and Diane Keaton gives a great performance opposite him.

It's tough to know just what to make of Mariel Hemingway's character in this movie, in retrospect. At times she seems more mature than any of the adult characters, but at others she just seems unaware of how the adult world works. And while she may be the best match for Allen's character, the film doesn't show us just how these two met and started seeing each other, which is almost guaranteed to skew the relationship to the creepy side. Of course, that's probably a smart, deliberate decision on Allen's part.

I don't quite see the "love-letter to the city" aspect so many talk about with this movie. Certainly, it's there in the opening, but I don't know how Manhattan-specific the rest of the movie actually is; it's a story that can take place anywhere you find smart but emotionally stunted people (and they're everywhere). It's still a great movie.

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