Towards the end of MANHATTAN ROMANCE, Danny (Tom O’Brien, who also wrote, directed, and produced this movie) is presenting a documentary he created about New York relationships at a film festival. When an audience member asks Danny why his film lacks a resolution, Danny gives a semi-annoyed response about how life doesn’t have clean resolutions so there is no reason why films should have them either. There’s nothing wrong with that sentiment – plenty of great movies end unresolved – but when an actor/writer/producer/director expresses that shortly before the credits in his own film, it sounds like a preemptive defense of his lack of confidence in the ending of his own movie.
MANHATTAN ROMANCE is about Danny, an everyman who works as a television commercial editor as he toils on his documentary about love. However, that is just background detail because Danny’s real conflicts are within his own love life. He’s sexually frustrated because Theresa, the new age hippie girl he’s sort of seeing (played by recent Ed Burns favorite Caitlin FitzGerald) shows little interest in having sex with him, and his down-to-earth, peppy best friend Carla (Katherine Waterston) – with whom he gets along so well you’d suspect they are dating – is a lesbian. Or at least she is now, because she used to date guys. Anyway, right now she is in a relationship with the cold and calculating political strategist Emmy (Gabby Hoffman). MANHATTAN ROMANCE follows Danny as he attempts to navigate the rough waters of his love life, or, in truth, his lack thereof.
Of course, Danny lives in a city inhabited by eight million people, but as far as Danny is concerned there are only two women worth dating in the entire city. Even when Danny attends his cousin’s wedding and his relatives express that there are many eligible single women there, Danny totally ignores the opportunity. While I certainly know how it is to be completely infatuated with one woman (or, like Danny, two women) at a time, the fact that Danny only considers two unattainable women as worthy of his time shows the limit of the narrative’s scope. Also, since Danny gets bent out of shape any time either of these women don’t act the way he wants them to act reveals that he in no way, shape, or form should be directing a documentary about love – which, to be honest, looks increasingly like an excuse just to invade the personal lives of these two women as the film goes on.
O’Brien is an auteur actor/writer/producer/director who made his feature writing/directing debut with 2012’s Fairhaven, which was featured at that year’s Tribeca Film Festival. He returned to Tribeca this year as an actor in the well-regarded Alex of Venice. I have no doubt that O’Brien envisions himself in the mold of Woody Allen – whom his character namechecks early in this film – but one thing that Allen’s films always have are engaging characters. The only character of emotional substance in MANHATTAN ROMANCE is Carla, and much of that is due to Waterston’s enthusiastic portrayal of the character. Theresa is little more than a caricature of an extreme new age girl (and FitzGerald could offer so much more than that), and Danny is essentially a lovelorn sap who is frustrated about the lack of control in his love life. In other words, you’ve seen these characters in plenty of other movies before.
Because of that, much of MANHATTAN ROMANCE is as generic as its title. It even features a few musical interludes of montage of shots of the cityscape like just about any other New York-set romantic comedy. If O’Brien wanted to achieve something unique with MANHATTAN ROMANCE, he didn’t get there. It marks the work of an auteur still learning his craft, and hopefully O’Brien’s next film will feature more characters in line with Waterston’s Carla instead of thin characters like Danny.
RATING 2 out of 5 : See it … At Your Own Risk
MANHATTAN ROMANCE will screen at the Big Apple Film Festival on Wednesday, November 5 at 8:30 PM and Sunday, November 9 at 8:00 PM.