After I fell in love with “Sleeper,” my interest in Woody Allen had been revitalized. I appreciated films like “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and “Midnight in Paris” a bit more and wanted to explore Allen’s filmography in greater detail, hoping to find more hidden gems that did not feel so narcissistic like “Hannah and Her Sisters.” Now that I’ve watched this strange Woody Allen film, “Manhattan Murder Mystery,” I’ve come to the conclusion that he can be an engaging, wonderful director when his stories are given a purpose and he’s not pointing the camera at himself.
Part of the reason films like “Annie Hall” and “Hannah” leave no impact on me is because they feel so aimless, going from one scene to the next like nothing matters. It is not until Woody Allen sets a distinct plot to follow that his unique narrative charm can come through, as with this film which follows a middle-aged New York couple (played by Woody Allen and Diane Keaton) as their next door neighbor dies unexpectedly. Her husband acts surprisingly calm about her death, so Keaton’s character, Carol, begins to speculate that he murdered the wife, which Allen’s character, Larry, brushes off as her being crazy or looking for trouble.
At first, this is all that happens – wild speculation based on little to no facts. Our protagonists had just met the elder couple the night prior to the death, so they know nothing about their personalities or their marriage. But once Carol starts to take her speculative fiction too far, she ends up finding clues that might link the husband to murder.
Carol ends up being the focus of “Manhattan Murder Mystery” so Woody Allen’s neurotic and sometimes insufferable nature takes a backseat. He still plays a coward who would rather read a book about how to trim your nose hairs instead of go out and solve a murder, but at least we get to witness a mystery with a great sense of humor about whether our heroes should be involved in this.
The mystery is effective because it all plays out like Carol’s mid-life crisis. Her only son has just gone off to college, she’s had plenty of opportunities to explore the world and is now bored with everything else, constantly looking for something to do. Her husband is a stick in the mud, content with where he’s at, but she wants something adventurous and different, like solving a murder. Every action she takes seems justified because of her thrill-seeking nature. Even if she makes several missteps along the way, like forgetting her reading glasses in the potential murderer’s bedroom, or getting too drunk on wine, Carol’s journey is never boring.
“Manhattan Murder Mystery” starts off innocently enough but continually builds tension, first through rumors that eventually turn into clues and fact, without ever losing its comedic touch. Woody Allen’s neurotic behavior is not as annoying here because it compliments the danger of this situation. While it is not as funny as some of Allen’s other work, the story is solid and the performances compliment the dual tone of the film. This is absolutely a Woody Allen film worth checking out.
Final Grade: B+