Netflix UK film review: Manhattan
Coiled sexual power of a jungle cat10
Ivan Radford | On 16, Apr 2016
Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Michael Murphy, Meryl Streep, Mariel Hemingway
Watch Manhattan online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
“Chapter One. He adored New York City. He idolised it all out of proportion. No, make that he, he romanticised it all out of proportion. Better. To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated to the great tunes of George Gershwin. Uh, no, let me start this over.”
It’s hard to think of a better opening to a film than Woody Allen’s 1979 masterpiece, Manhattan. At the height of his abilities, he put together a breathtaking montage full of post-modern wit, fireworks and – of course – George Gershwin. When you see those fireworks exploding over the New York skyline in photographic black-and-white, it’s impossible not to fall a little in love with the city yourself.
Manhattan is full of falling in love – and not knowing what to do about it. Allen’s middle-aged Isaac (divorced from a brilliant Meryl Streep) is dating a 17 year old schoolgirl (the heartbreakingly innocent Mariel Hemingway – deservedly nominated for an Oscar), but keeps telling himself he should break it off. His best friend is in a similar spot, sleeping with Diane Keaton’s mistress, Mary, despite his happy marriage.
As each man fails to commit, Keaton and Allen inevitably wind up together, strolling through Manhattan’s major hotspots. It all looks gorgeous (Manhattan is one of Allen’s most beautiful films), with cinematographer Gordon Willis and Allen working to keep the black-and-white contrast high and the framing seductive. One evening, the couple visit an observatory, disappearing into the darkness with just a fragment of light to pick out their faces. That moment alone is worth watching for – a testament to not just Willis but, Allen’s often underrated skill as a visual storyteller.
But ultimately, just as you start to have a little faith in Isaac, the film breaks it off with you. It leaves you to look back, smiling, with that postcard mentality we all have that attaches events and emotions to landmarks around us. Manhattan is woven intimately with that nostalgic memory of love – and of falling in love. A subtle, accomplished study of romance, cynicism and maturity, that’s what makes this such a moving film, despite the stream of jokes, and such a memorable tribute to an iconic location. Allen romanticises Manhattan. He idolises it. Not as a tourist, but as a lover. In the most personal sense. No, wait, let me start this over.
Manhattan is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.