In "Manhattan," Woody Allen plays a man in his 40s dating a high school student played by Mariel Hemingway
In "Manhattan," Woody Allen plays a man in his 40s dating a high school student played by Mariel Hemingway

Can I overlook my boyfriend’s love for reprehensible Woody Allen films?

Dear Mensch: A few months ago I began dating a somewhat older man. Although we share many values and a commitment to work and family, we do have some differences in taste. These differences had not been a serious problem until the other day, when he invited me over to watch what he says is his favorite movie, Woody Allen’s “Manhattan.” I was appalled by the subject matter, in which the main character, a 40-something man played by Mr. Allen, dates a high school student. Moreover, when I googled Woody Allen to see what other people thought of his work, I found out he married the daughter of his longtime girlfriend and was accused of molesting one of his own young children. My boyfriend says Woody Allen was never convicted of doing anything illegal and that, in any case, the art is different from the artist. I am worried he can overlook such morally reprehensible behavior. — Eva

Dear Eva: For cinephiles and, especially, for Jews of a certain age, the earlier films of Woody Allen represent in aggregate phenomenal artistic achievement and a profound cultural touchstone. Also, it has been said by many critics, as well as actresses with whom he has worked, that few filmmakers have written and directed parts for women as nuanced and substantive as has Allen. Finally, your boyfriend is correct that Allen has not as yet been convicted of any crime. All that said, the times, they are a-changin’.

Only recently has society come to understand and begin to reckon with the level to which inappropriate behavior by powerful, “entitled” men has detrimentally affected the safety and well-being of many women (and girls) and some men (and boys). Bad actors are being singled out and debate is taking place over appropriate punishment. Hopefully, things will change moving forward. But what about the past?

“Manhattan” was released 40 years ago. Presumably, when your boyfriend first saw it, he was awed by its brilliant cinematography, compelling score and insightful study of character. Should the behavior of its auteur later in life, and unproven accusations against him, detract from the film’s artistic merit or negate its impact on those who have loved it?

Perhaps in instances, such as this, where the facts of the matter are undetermined and there is some consensus around the artistic merit, individuals are best left to make up their own minds. Mensch would encourage that you not be too hard on your boyfriend, though he should likewise be accepting of your objections around patronizing this artist as well as the subject matter of that movie in particular, which, admittedly, is weird even by 1977 standards.

Dear Mensch: I am having an issue with my sister-in-law. Our kids are close in age and our families are together on a regular basis for holidays and birthdays. My problem is, while I make an effort to comment on my sister’s Facebook photos of her kids, she almost never comments or even “likes” mine. I see her reacting to posts from her other friends, so this behavior toward me has me puzzled and somewhat hurt. Should I discuss this with her? — Alexa

Dear Alexa: You say you and your sister-in-law share meaningful family moments together and that your children enjoy a close relationship. You should know that such togetherness is elusive in a time when distance and other commitments increasingly prevent it. Even siblings and cousins who live within driving distance can go months and even years without seeing one another, and crafting excuses along the way. So count your blessings.

Who knows why your sister-in-law is ghosting you on Facebook? But does it really matter? Your families are creating real bonds while others are unable or unwilling to do so. Forget about Facebook and be glad you are actually friends in the more meaningful sense.

A final note: After 2½ years of writing this feature, Advice Mensch is announcing that this will be his final column for J. Thank you for your inquiries, readership and feedback. It has been a privilege to explore matters of interest and import to the Bay Area’s diverse and informed Jewish community. Please continue to reach out via email or on Facebook. God bless.

Jonathan Harris
Jonathan Harris

Jonathan Harris is a synagogue administrator and writer-editor living in San Francisco with his wife, three daughters and an ungrateful cat. He can be reached at [email protected].