It’s no surprise that Tom O’Brien‘s Manhattan Romance feels like a Woody Allen film. Most of Allen‘s most successful romantic comedies take place in Manhattan and have a tremendous amount of dialogue so in this sense, Manhattan Romance emulates Allen. The circumstances befalling his protagonist, Danny (played by O’Brien himself), and the absence of the signature Allen comedic touches distinguish the film from those of Allen. But they tread in the same water. That isn’t to say that Manhattan Romance is in the same league as films like Annie Hall or Manhattan, but could it be a distant relative?
The film follow Danny, a video editor, who is making a documentary on the side about people’s relationships in New York City, perhaps because he’s trying to find meaning in his own crazy relationship with the free-spirited Theresa (Caitlin Fitzgerald). As Danny tries to make sense of what’s going on with her, he and his best friend, Carla, played by the exquisite Katherine Waterston who is starring in Paul Thomas Anderson‘s upcoming opus Inherent Vice, become closer. Lines become blurred between them as Carla and her partner Emmy (Gabby Hoffman) are having their own issues pushing Danny and her closer together. The two try to unravel their feelings for each other and their significant others in a way that also invokes the heart of Kevin Smith‘s Chasing Amy without all of the dick jokes, of course.
O’Brien‘s approach to much walked territory is interesting. Weaving the documentary aspect into the narrative allows something akin to what Rob Reiner achieved in When Harry Met Sally. That footage allows the film to juxtapose the interviewees relationships with Danny’s. This device, if you want to call it that, allows for us as viewers to reflect in different ways on what we see Danny encounter with Theresa, who is off her fucking rocker, and Carla. I really appreciate this. O’Brien also allows us to deduce what happens between he and Carla without telling us, both in the second act as well as what may be happening at the end of the film. This is something that is certainly not the norm in romantic comedies where S.O.P. calls for every little detail to be spelled out complete with some giant flourish, usually in front of a large crowd in a bar, at stadium or a train station, that ties everything neatly together. Thank the heavens O’Brien didn’t take that approach.
This is a simple film only in as much as relationships can be simple. Danny is faced with tough challenges when confronting his feeling about his relationships with the women in his life, even his own mother. O’Brien nailed his performance as Danny, which didn’t feel forced, but actually quite natural. It’s clear as to why Anderson cast Waterston in Inherent Vice. She has a presence that is instantly likeable and a smile that lights up the screen. She and Hoffman played well off of one another, which is crucial for how the film plays out.
I invoke quite a few classic films in reference to Manhattan Romance and I want to make it clear that this films echoes parts of those I mentioned. While it is not on par with them, as few are, it certainly breathes life into a genre that I has yielded fewer and fewer worthy heirs.
This film will be screening at the Big Apple Film Festival on Sunday, November 9 at 8:00 pm at the Tribeca Cinemas. Be sure to check it out.