The first Woody Allen film I ever saw was Manhattan. I was 19, hugging my knees on a mattress flopped down on the floor of a very dark apartment, sharing a bed and a bowl of popcorn with a smart English major girl who liked me way more than I liked her. The credits rose. My heart sunk. The film’s date-night reputation—one of the greatest romance movies EVER, I had been told—had me doomed, I thought, to an awkward make-out session.
But then it started. And as Allen’s trademark cauldron of ennui, solipsism, and pampered New Yorker dissatisfaction began to simmer, I let out a huge sigh of relief. This wasn’t a love poem—at least not one aimed at women. Yes, the swelling George Gershwin score and the sublime black-and-white cinematography of Gordon Willis make a strong play for the female heart. But the whole plot is about emotionally stunted, faux-intellectual “nice guys” behaving badly.
Allen’s sad-sack divorcé character Isaac is, creepily, dating a 17-year-old (a stunning Mariel Hemingway), whom he refuses to commit to. And Isaac’s best bud Yale (Michael Murphy) is cheating on his wife with a brainy writer (Diane Keaton)—whom Isaac will later steal away. And in the background lurks Meryl Streep, who, as Isaac’s lesbian ex-wife, makes an odd sort of villain, as she’s penning a tell-all book about the failed marriage.
Oi vey. You can spot the misogyny a mile away.
Still, Manhattan is an ode. It’s an ode to 1970s New York as a place, yes. But it’s also an ode to 1970s New York as a mindset—that wry, seriocomic penchant that certain smart, well-off people have to brood in discontent and romantic dysfunction. If you’ve ever read Portnoy’s Complaint, you know the territory.
So…maybe not a make-out flick after all. Well, unless you’re with a well-read English major who really likes that sort of thing.
Manhattan plays all this weekend at the Trylon. It kicks off a month-long survey of the director’s 1970s flix, called “Woody Allen’s 1970s: It was over too soon.”
Friday, October 5–Sunday, October 7
See website for times and ticket prices.
Trylon Microcinema, 3258 Minnehaha Ave. S., Mpls.