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“She’s always right” — Josh Reviews Modern Romance (1981)

Drew McWeeny (who has a terrific blog over at Hitfix.com) has a series called “The Basics,” in which he writes about a film that he considers one of the “essentials” — a film that anyone who takes film seriously should see — and then another, younger writer, William Goss, writes a response.  To read more about this series, click here and then here.  Recently he and Mr. Goss invited other writers to get involved in their film conversations.  Since the last film under discussion was Woody Allen’s Manhattan (1979), I was really excited to chime in.  (Here’s Mr. McWeeny’s piece about Manhattan.  Here’s what Mr. Goss wrote, and here’s what I had to say.)

Now Mr. McWeeny is writing about Albert Brooks’ 1981 film Modern Romance. What a terrific choice!  It had been a few years since I had last seen the film, so I was happy to have an excuse to pull it off my DVD shelf and give it a viewing.

The great Albert Brooks (who also directed and co-wrote the film) plays Robert Cole, one one the most neurotically messed-up characters I’ve ever seen captured on film.  As the movie opens, Robert breaks up with his girlfriend Mary (Kathryn Harrold, who I always think of as Francine from The Larry Sanders Show).  From her reaction it is clear that this has happened before, and I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by saying that this opening-scene break-up doesn’t exactly break that cycle.

Modern Romance is very leisurely paced, with long scenes that aren’t in a rush to get to the punchline.  But don’t let that lead you to think that the film isn’t funny.  Quite the contrary, it is hysterical.  This is one of the most quotable comedies that I know.  It might be my favorite Albert Brooks movie, and that’s mostly because of the script’s tremendous wit.

In his review, Mr. McWeeny comments that he loves the way that Mr. Brooks isn’t afraid to digress in the film.  That pretty well sums up one of the strongest aspects, in my opinion, of Modern Romance.  My very favorite moments in the film are the ones that have nothing at all to do with Robert’s on-again off-again cycle with Mary.  I’m talking about the glimpses at Robert’s job as a film editor, working on a lousy-looking science-fiction picture.  That the film takes ten minutes to present us with a scene that’s all about how editing works (as Robert makes an edit to the sci-fi film that he feels strengthens the suspense of a scene) is just wonderful to me.  It helps, of course, that the greatly-missed Bruno Kirby … [continued]

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“So, do you love me, or what?” Josh reviews Manhattan (1979)!

I’ve been reading Drew McWeeny’s writings about film for, oh, probably a decade now.  I first found his work when he wrote for Aintitcoolnews.com, though these days he has a terrific blog over at Hitfix.com.  The dude has some sharp opinions, and while I’m not always in agreement with him, I can always count on his pieces being interesting & insightful, to say the least.  I’m a big fan.  Drew recently started a series called “The Basics,” in which he writes about a film that he considers one of the “essentials” — a film that anyone who takes film seriously should see — and then another, younger writer, William Goss, writes a response.  To read more about this series, click here and then here.

With their latest installment, Drew opened the door for others to chime in with their opinion.  Since the film in question is Woody Allen’s 1979 film Manhattan, I jumped at the chance to share my two cents!

I am an enormous Woody Allen fan.  I have seen every one of his films (with one exception, Interiors, a situation that I’m sure I’ll remedy someday, but I must confess to not being in any rush), and many of them I have seen too many times to count.  But while I recognize that Manhattan is one of Woody’s most well thought-of films, I’ve actually only seen it one time, about 15 years ago.  I remember enjoying it, but I didn’t think it was of the level with what I would consider to be Mr. Allen’s masterpieces, films like Annie Hall, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Bananas, etc.  (It probably didn’t help that I watched Manhattan less than a month after first seeing Annie Hall, a film that absolutely blew me away and that remains easily one of my top ten favorite films of all time.)

So, prompted by this “The Basics” series, I was excited to go back and re-watch Manhattan.  Would my opinion of the film change?

Filmed in gloriously beautiful black and white, Manhattan follows several good-natured but lost urbanites as they try to find some measure of love and happiness.  Woody Allen plays Isaac, a television comedy writer unhappy with his job who dreams of writing a novel.  When we meet Isaac, he’s involved with a much, much younger woman: the 17 year-old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway).  Meanwhile, his married best friend Yale (Michael Murphy) is having an affair with Mary (Diane Keaton).  While Isaac and Mary strongly dislike one another when they first meet (at an awkward encounter in a museum), they gradually strike up a friendship and ultimately start seeing each other.

None of the elements of that … [continued]