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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Manhattan Romance: Woody Allen Rebooted

If Woody Allen were in his late twenties or early thirties and made a movie today, it would be a lot like Manhattan Romance.   And, in fact, Woody Allen is mentioned early in the movie, and Tom O'Brien, who is about that age, wrote, produced, directed, and stars in Manhattan Romance - which is a delightfully sage movie, and better than some of Woody Allen's recent efforts.

Danny - played by O'Brien - is making a documentary about love in Manhattan in this day and digital age, but the main story is what happens off the screen of the documentary, in the real lives of Danny and women who are in the documentary.   Two women in particular play major roles in Danny's off-camera life.   Beautiful, new-agey Theresa, well played by Caitlin FitzGerald - seen to good effect the last couple of years as the alternately suffering and liberated wife of Dr. Masters in Masters of Sex on Showtime - is desired by Danny, who gets little more than a hug and a chance to give Theresa a massage with happy endings for no one.  In true Woody Allen fashion, Danny's take away from this relationship is frustration.

That would be ok, since we soon come to realize that Danny loves someone else - Carla, zestfully played by Katherine Waterston, who was on the screen in Boardwalk Empire last season.   But Carla, though she feels something for Danny, has opted to be with a woman.   And even though we see clearly from the outset that that relationship isn't working so well, there's no dividend for Danny.   He spends most of a night together with Carla in bed, but all that happens is good talk and sleep.

All of this is situated in a great, pulsating New York ambience, in which memorable characters make brief appearances, and there's even a little jazz in the air.   The guy Theresa is sleeping with - she's not against sex, just apparently sex with Danny - is a fount of lay-back aphorisms, or afflicted with "spiritual Tourettes," as Danny aptly puts it in one of the many good lines in the movie.   Zach Grenier, of Good Wife fame, plays Danny's mother's husband, and delivers a suitably zany, stoned performance at a wedding.

The movie ends with a great meta-piece about the nature of endings - in stories and realities - and I won't tell you more than that, lest I spoil the ending of that ending for you.   The movie premieres at the Big Apple Film Festival this Wednesday.   See it if you've ever wondered how the genre Woody Allen created half a century ago would play on the screen if it was almost brand new today.

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