Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Little Prozac and a Polo Mallet

Manhattan Murder Mystery
Directed and Written by Woody Allen
Starring Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Alan Alda, Anjelica Huston

Manhattan Murder Mystery, on the surface, is exactly what it's called; Carol Lipton (Diane Keaton) finds her elderly neighbour Paul House to be in remarkable form after the sudden death of his wife from a heart attack. Carol, like all sensible people, suspects murder, and decides to investigate for herself. The movie follows her sleuthing into a labyrinthine plot worthy of, and paying homage to, a Hitchcock movie. While Carol is the driving force, Larry Lipton (Allen) serves as the audience's lens into the story. For the first hour, he's convinced his wife is having a psychotic breakdown, and so are we.

Initially, the first hour seems unsensible. Carol doesn't strike you as the sort of person who would allow herself to get so carried away. But that's part of the point. The Liptons meet the Houses in the first few minutes of the film, having an evening cup of coffee. Carol is terrified by the prospect of ending up like them, complacent and "boring." Larry doesn't mind it. They're in great shape for their age, he says. After Lillian House dies, Carol siezes this moment as her last chance to do something crazy before she gets too old. Larry is content, but Carol is going through her midlife crisis. She just happens to be driven to prove a murder rather than to buy a car.

But there is a shift at the hour mark. It is signalled by a brief scene where Marcia Fox (Anjelica Huston) teachers Larry, her editor, how to play poker. I want to note and praise Allen's wonderful physical performance here, shuffling the cards around in his hand, doing slapstick without ever really moving. Up until this point, he's spent the movie doubting his wife, and so have we. But Marcia encourages Larry to try harder, to give his wife the benefit of the doubt. This spurrs him to join her on a stakeout, where he sees something that causes him to second-guess himself. As soon as Larry is on Carol's side, so are we, and the rest of the movie bowls forward at full-speed, reaching it's excellent conclusion without time to breathe.

All the performances are solid, and while Alda and Huston are sturdy as always, Keaton and Allen were made to be on screen together. They both play neurotic so well, and in such different ways. Hers is below the surface and subdued. His is always right there at the front of it. You never question why they are together, which is why this movie works.

Grade: B

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