In 1979 nobody bat an eyelid about Woody Allen's character (42) dating a 17-year-old
Four decades on, Woody Allen’s classic movie 'Manhattan' is majorly compromised
Woody Allen and Mariel Hemingway in Manhattan. This fitfully amusing comedy is now majorly compromised by its May-December romancing
Film Title: Manhattan
Director: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Michael Murphy, Mariel Hemingway, Meryl Streep, Anne Byrne
Running Time: 96 min
It’s one of modern cinema’s greatest overtures: George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, played by the New York Philharmonic, blazes across cinematographer Gordon Willis’s lush monochrome images of New York.
Here be skylines. Manhattan, Woody Allen’s unabashed love-letter to New York is painstakingly composed of postcard images: boating in Central Park, strolling past the fountains at West 50th Street and 6th Avenue, and, most famously, the iconic shot of the Queensboro Bridge at dawn (for which – trivia klaxon – the production brought their own bench).
The film frequently, which has recently been digitally restored, appears on American Film Institute lists and has a spot at the National Registry; yet, upon completion, Allen asked United Artists not to release it and offered to make another film for free.
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His response was not entirely unreasonable. Manhattan may contain some of his best-loved one-liners (“I think people should mate for life, like pigeons or Catholics”) but the film’s characters are spoiled, petulant children. Too often, it’s like watching a high-school movie populated by fortysomethings, all tediously motivated by he-said, she-said, he-did, she-did.
Woody’s Isaac Davis, a 42-year-old TV writer, is twice-divorced as the film opens, most recently from an “immoral, psychotic, promiscuous” lesbian (Streep) who is currently writing a caustic tell-all book. Isaac’s best friend Yale (Murphy) is having an extra-marital affair with Mary (Diane Keaton); he later attempts to “offload” Mary on to Isaac. For a supposed intellectual, Mary really isn’t awfully bright. Oh, those poor men-children.
Most vexingly, for much of the movie Isaac is dating a 17-year-old high school student (Hemingway). Nobody really baulks. Grand, so, suggests his chum. Writing in The New York Times in 1980, Pauline Kael snarked: “What man in his 40s but Woody Allen could pass off a predilection for teenagers as a quest for true values?”
It’s entirely wrong to judge a work of art by its creator’s behaviour. But almost four decades later – years during which Allen’s son Ronan Farrow has repeatedly railed against the media for its handling of decades-old sexual abuse allegations against his father – and this only fitfully amusing comedy is now majorly compromised by its May-December romancing.
A pretty and problematic picture that leaves a sour taste in the mouth.