Not Woody, Formica
Patient: Sidewalks of New York
Profile: A collection of mildly interesting-to-boorishly turgid characters talk and, um, uh, talk about love, sex and relationships in a shameless Woody Allen rip-off that isn't so much funny and insightful as it is numbing and pretentious. Filmmaker Edward Burns apparently recognized this when he employed the contrivance of actors talking to a film crew whose presence is never explained. Think Husbands and Wives meets, uh, meets Sex In the City meets, mmm, meets Blueblockers Infomercial. Symptoms: From its cast of overcoated, turtlenecked and cashmered neurotic sophisticates to the warmly lit Eastside apartment backdrops from whence they babble, the only thing missing from the Woody Allen formula is Tony Roberts and a ragtime or Tin Pan Alley number—and then, an hour into the film, a ragtime number shows up. The Allen larceny is distracting—I counted at least half a dozen direct lifts from Allen films. What makes this movie frustrating is that you have so many characters saying so many things without ever really saying anything about who they really are or anything fresh about the subject. We find out such scandalous truths as: being married is different than being single, some people habitually cheat on their partners, and—shock!—love is crazy, isn't it? It says something that the one genuinely interesting moment in the film, when a woman has to tell a man she's pregnant, is sloughed off so we can get back to the characters stuttering out more affected pronouncements. (Note to Burns: stammering does not imbue your characters' opinions with gravity, it only makes us want to imbue them repeatedly about the head and shoulders with a large stick.) Diagnosis: Instead of taking up valuable screen time, this knockoff belongs on the sidewalks of New York sharing table space with that Rollex you've been eyeing for Xmas.
Prescription: There's nothing wrong with a movie that's all talk as long as the characters have something to say. What they say can even be circuitous drivel—as witnessed by the excellent films of Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, Barcelona, Last Days of Disco)—as long as what they say moves the story, the characters and—this is key—is provocative. Sidewalks of New York looks like Burns thought it would be easy just to get a bunch of actors together and let the subject matter and setting take care of the rest. They don't. Pare down the cast; fewer relationships means more time for explication and, hopefully, depth. The end of this thing comes with a backfire and a stall because we don't care who ends up with who because we don't really know who is who. And stop the interview crap—that's cheating. If your action and dialogue aren't communicating who your characters are or what your plot is, well, hell, that should tell you something, and what it's telling you is YOU NEED TO DEVELOP SOME CHARACTERS AND A PLOT BEFORE YOU START SHOOTING. And, lay off the Woodman: he's had it hard enough of late without this.
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