out of five
: 108 mins
Enjoyable, quirky, well-cast New York-set romantic comedy with several large helpings of Woody Allen – this is actor / director Burns’ fourth and best film to date.
Sidewalks of New York is one of those films whose release date was put back in the wake of September 11th, because of its title and the fact that the World Trade Centre towers appear in the background of one shot. As such, that shot (which appears early on) now provides an unintentionally jarring moment, but other than that, it's a nice, quirky, well-cast, New York-set independent romantic comedy, with several large helpings of Woody Allen thrown in for good measure.
Shot entirely using hand-held cameras, the film is loosely inspired by the classic French film La Ronde, since it describes a similar ‘Circle of Love’.
Each of the characters interacts with at least one other character, so we have TV producer Burns (as Tommy) meeting grade school teacher Maria (Rosario Dawson, from Josie and the Pussycats) in the video store, then Maria running into her obsessive ex-husband, a hotel doorman (The Great David Krumholtz), then Krumholtz meeting and falling for Brittany Murphy's coffee waitress, then Murphy meeting her sleazy married lover, Griffin (The Equally Great Stanley Tucci), then Tucci meeting his wife (Heather Graham) who just happens to be Tommy’s estate agent. See? Clever, isn’t it?
Naturally, an ensemble comedy of this nature is going to stand or fall on the quality of its performances and fortunately, Burns has assembled a superb cast. The three male leads are all excellent, playing very different characters, though each of them have lines that sound as if they are straight out of Woody Allen movies (e.g. Krumholz declaring “I’m a savage – I’m a savage, but with a very sweet nature”).
As for the female characters, Dawson gives a confident, sexy performance that suggests she will be a huge star (if you don't know who she is by now then you will do by the time Men In Black II comes out) and Brittany Murphy excels at the kooky-but-cute balancing act -i.e. staying the right side of annoying- that she has made her own. Only Heather Graham disappoints slightly, partly because she starts off as very uptight so it's hard to warm to her later.
There are also hilarious mini-roles for both Aida Turturro (Janice, from The Sopranos) and Dennis Farina, who gets all the best lines and steals every scene he's in, dispensing choice snippets of highly sexist advice to Tommy, such as “Spritz your balls with after-shave – the ladies love it when your balls smell good”.
The only thing that grates slightly is the use of to-camera intercuts. This starts off well-enough (an unseen, but frequently heard documentary crew asking personal questions about love, sex, etc) but later the locations change, so, for example, we get the crew interviewing Tucci in the hotel room he has just been in with Murphy.
At that point you start wondering how they got in there, what kind of a film they’re making and so on, and it jolts you out of the story. Similarly, later on, the camera crew conceal crucial information from another character, which seems completely misguided and ill thought out.
That said, there are lots of great lines and some very funny moments.
Highlights include: Tucci's growing obsession with penis size; Heather
Graham's friend arranging her first date for her; Krumholtz almost
serenading Murphy and any conversation with Farina.
In short, Sidewalks of New York is an extremely enjoyable little romantic comedy that is well acted, well written and has a great soundtrack to boot. Highly recommended.