Manhattan (1979)

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Manhattan (1979) Movie Poster Image
Bittersweet romance with mature themes, sex, profanity.
  • R
  • 1979
  • 96 minutes

Parents say

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Kids say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Presents universal truths and emotions -- humankind's search for love, search for meaning in life, fear of loss, fear of death -- and shows a variety of coping mechanisms, some successful but most not. Looks at human frailties, compromise, integrity, and self-delusion. Declares that the movie is telling the story of "people creating unnecessary problems for themselves because they don't want to deal with the unsolvable, terrifying facts about the universe." 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Leading upper-middle-class characters are treated compassionately (and with humor) as they struggle with self-esteem, relationships, and fear of loss. They are consistently neurotic, childish, and self-indulgent and make mistakes that hurt others. The most mature and honest of those portrayed is a 17-year-old girl who retains her fresh honesty and growing wisdom throughout. No ethnic diversity.


Though there is no overt sexual activity other than kissing and scenes of couples in bed together, sexual behavior and sexual themes are primary elements. Adultery, unfaithfulness, monogamy vs. serial relationships, orgasms, lesbian partnerships, and an ongoing liaison between a 42-year-old man and a 17-year-old girl all are portrayed and/or discussed. 


Occasional profanity: "crap," "bulls--t," "f--k," "schmucks," "hell," "penis," "the male organ," "goddamn," "Jesus."


Many New York City landmarks, shops, restaurants (Zabar's, Henri Bendel, Parke-Bernet, Dalton School, Elaine's) are identified. Visible products: Coca-Cola, Pepsi.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Characters drink alcoholic beverages. Some discussion of drugs: "ludes," Valium, Percodan, "drop acid." Characters smoke but also mention that cigarettes cause cancer.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Manhattan, Woody Allen's black-and-white film released in 1979, intentionally and successfully infuses romantic comedy with serious thematic material. Human frailty, fragility, fear of loss and death, self-delusion, and insecurity are the topics to which Allen brings both his wit and originality. He explores these profound themes by looking at a series of relationships between friends and lovers, touching on infidelity, a 42-year-old man's affair with a 17-year-old girl, a lesbian partnership, and problems of intimacy and commitment. Characters embrace, kiss, and are shown in bed together. Expect some coarse language ("f--k," "bulls--t," "penis") and discussions of orgasm and sexual prowess. Filled with intellectual and cultural references, conversations and observations are funny, wise, and sophisticated. Characters occasionally consume adult beverages (getting tipsy in one sequence), mention prescription drug use, and smoke.  

User Reviews

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Teen, 15 years old Written byJawsnerd July 20, 2018

Smart and witty romantic comedy, set against the backdrop of a beautiful black and white Manhattan, provides an engaging story and lovable set of characters.

Parent's Guide:

The film does not contain violence in any matter.
Language is pretty frequent, with some f-words.
Sex, though not graphic, is the 'R... Continue reading

What's the story?

Isaac Davis (Woody Allen) is feeling more than a little guilty about his romance with Tracy (Mariel Hemingway) in MANHATTAN. She's 17, has an opportunity to study in London, and has her whole life in front of her. He's 42, twice divorced, neurotic, and driven to question why life is worth living. At the same time, Yale (Michael Murphy), Isaac's best friend, also is feeling guilty about his affair with Mary (Diane Keaton). She's divorced, insecure, and needy. He's married, loves her, but loves his wife, too. With George Gershwin's music to guide them all through the hustle and bustle and lingering beauty of New York City, Isaac, Tracy, Yale, and Mary dance the eternal "relationship dance." They examine and reexamine their liaisons, break up, form new allegiances, and fall in love all over again. And beneath the excitement, hurt, joy, and disappointment they enjoy and suffer, they're struggling with the weightiest elements of the human condition: self-respect, integrity, loyalty, fear, and love. 

Is it any good?

Adults and certain teens, especially those with an eye for irony and the folly of human behavior, will appreciate this terrific film. After winning multiple Academy Awards for his comic classic Annie Hall in 1977, then delivering his first "serious" film with Interiors in 1978, Woody Allen made "serious comedy" an art form with Manhattan in 1979. The textures, shadows, and light in Gordon Willis' masterful achievement in black-and-white photography, the rich melodies and tones of Gershwin, and the writer-director's ability to find the whimsy and wit in life's most challenging dilemmas, unite to create a movie with inimitable characters, very funny moments, and timeless insights.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the title of this film. How is NYC's borough of Manhattan an integral part of the story? In what ways does the city help define the characters? Can you think of other movies in which the location plays an important part? 

  • Why do you think Woody Allen chose George Gershwin's music and used black-and-white film to tell his story? How did it affect your enjoyment of and relationship with the movie? 

  • Think about the four main characters. If you identified with any of them, who was it and why?  Who was the most mature? Who was the most honest? 

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love romcoms

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