Annie Hall is one of my three favorite films of all time. Not only is it one of my favorite films from a biased fan’s perspective but it is also what I consider to be one of the greatest films ever made from a critical perspective. I think it is the greatest romantic comedy ever made, both in its originality when first written and in comparison to all of the pretenders that came after it. There are generally two schools of thought as to what is Woody Allen’s best film after Annie Hall. People normally say its either Hannah and Her Sisters (which I haven’t seen) or 1979’s Manhattan, the film I just watched and the one that has my vote. While it isn’t quite the perfect bit of meta-textual, fourth-wall breaking genius that is Annie Hall, it is still a fantastically crafted understated masterpiece.
Manhattan is a dramedy focusing on the complicated relationships among a diverse group of New York intellectuals. The film is focused around Isaac Davis (Woody Allen), a divorced man in his 40’s who is a comedy writer and one of the most neurotic people you’ll ever meet. He is dating Tracy (Mariel Hemingway) who is 17 years old and still in high school. Isaac’s best friend is the married Yale, an author of middling success who is having an affair with Mary (Diane Keaton), a woman wracked with guilt for being in an affair with a married man. Isaac’s ex wife is named Jill (Meryl Streep) who left him for another woman and is writing a book about her marriage with Isaac. Things become complicated as Isaac begins to date Mary who is his age and into the same intellectual pretensions as him. What follows is an incredibly realistic portrait of modern relationships and the anxiety and stress that love and dating put us through.
This was the film that, to me, marks the departure from Allen’s more satircal and comedic earlier films to his more dramatic and serious pieces. While there are many moments in this film that are legitimately funny, this is a fairly serious and grown-up film. I’m not saying Annie Hall wasn’t grown-up (because it was devestatingly tragic and real). This film just goes even further into dramatic territory for Allen. The last movie that I watched that portrayed relationships this effectively and sincerely was Conversations With Other Women. There aren’t really happy endings in this movie. You don’t get easy answers. You just get one man’s analysis of life and love and the notion that we should take the happiness we find and not question it too deeply.
The cast for the film is great. Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are so believable as a couple that you never doubt the sincerity of their scenes together (makes sense since Annie Hall is an autobiographical tale of their relationship). When Diane Keaton was younger, she was just one of the finest comedic actresses on the planet. She was the thinking man’s sex symbol. She might not have been classically beautiful, but she was smart and funny, and I love Diane Keaton. Woody Allen is as hilarious as he always is. Mariel Hemingway is appropriately precocious yet vulnerable as Isaac’s under-age lover (the relationship is creepier in retrospect considering Allen’s personal life). You also get a great jazz score for the whole film, and the movie’s opening monologue, set against George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” is classic Allen.
If you like grown up dramas and grown up love stories (or lack therof), then you need to see this film. It’s mature and adult, and I guess if you aren’t of the intellectual vein, it won’t be for you. I see so much of myself in Manhattan‘s Isaac and Annie Hall‘s Alvy. I’m the neurotic, bookish, nebbish Jew so I guess that makes sense. Perhaps that’s why I love his films so much. Yet, I think it comes down to his ability to paint portraits that are both humorous and human, tragic yet full of life. I stand behind my assertion that I made a while back that I think Woody is the greatest comedic director of all time, and this film is just another piece of evidence to prove it.
Final Score: A