Sidewalks of New York is Edward Burns’ sorry attempt at being Woody Allen. Filled with self-absorbed, soulless characters, the movie is supposed to tackle the whole “sex and love” thing. You know, the difficulties of forging new relationships and how confusing and unnecessarily complicated it all can get. Instead of tackling the topic, though, this 90-pound weakling gets knocked down and goes out with a concussion.
In short, it’s a butt-numbing ride through relationship hell.
R for language, sexuality
Just about anybody who didn’t go on to (happily) marry his or her high school sweetheart knows dating is hard work. Dating is a job. But Sidewalks of New York makes the job look thoroughly unappealing and unrewarding. Watching it is like doing hard time in the penitentiary.
This is a heartless “relationship” movie written and directed by Burns, the young prodigy behind The Brothers McMullen, who has gone on to date supermodels and glamorous actresses (including co-star Heather Graham). To his credit, Burns staves off criticism of this being a total vanity trip by allowing himself to be filmed after a noticeably bad shave. Aside from that one dose of reality (most likely because the budget didn’t allow for a tube of Clearasil), this movie feels forced and fake.
Burns has squished enough nauseating mumbo-jumbo double talk and pretentious nonsense into his New York stories to make even Woody Allen run for the exits.
One More Time… With Feeling!
One of the glaring problems with this film is that it feels more like an acting class than a movie. Aside from a couple scenes with three or four people, the entire movie is built around one-on-one conversations – or worse, the characters talking directly to the camera in faux documentary-style interviews. Unless you have something intelligent or witty or otherwise valuable to say, such a structure lends itself to either over dramatization or boredom – or both. Sidewalks of New York is a casebook triumph of the latter as each actor gets caught in the act of acting… badly.
The handheld camera, which is supposed to add to the film’s documentary feel, also backfires in a big way. The production feels like a film student’s final exam, all done with a shoestring budget and a camcorder
Another problem is there’s nobody to really root for or care about. None of the characters are interesting or lead interesting lives. In fact, they’re so one dimensional, they make Shallow Hal look like a modern-day da Vinci.
Showing the most potential in this hapless troupe is Ben (David Krumholtz, The Mexican). He seems to be a fairly decent guy, divorced and in serious need of female attention. He’s the only character in a lineup of pathetic males that actually tries to make things at least somewhat romantic.
His polar opposites are Griffin (Stanley Tucci, Deconstructing Harry), a patent creep in two totally unrealistic relationships, and Carpo (Dennis Farina, Out of Sight), the poster boy for sleazy tabloid TV anchors.
Griffin is an absolute mess of a man. He’s a dentist by day and a disgusting, manipulative opportunist by lunch hour. He’s married to Annie (Graham, Boogie Nights), who, casting against type, is a bookish good girl in a bad marriage. On the side, Griffin is mating with Ashley (Brittany Murphy, Don’t Say a Word), a messed up teenager with no self-esteem. Griffin limits their trysts to hotel nooners so those in the massive New York dental community won’t catch him. He’s a small man in more ways than one.
As for Carpo, he’s a slimy TV “personality” who brags about his sexual conquests and tries to advise Tommy (Burns, Saving Private Ryan) in the ways of the scumbag.
But Tommy is really just a well-to-do nobody with nothing of importance to say. He’s supposedly a good, well-meaning boy who has a sexual encounter with Maria (Rosario Dawson, Josie and the Pussycats) after a run-in at the local video store.
The stories of the characters are supposed to intertwine to some degree, but the end result is less clever than Burns no doubt hoped it would be.
The film’s most jarring moment comes during one of the fake interviews. Annie bares her soul when asked why we all think about sex so much. Her enlightened response: There are “no real threats, no real problems,” so there’s nothing else to think about or talk about except sex.
Filmed prior to the events of September 11, 2001, Sidewalks of New York was made totally irrelevant by that one scene.
It would be unfair to dismiss this movie for that reason alone. Before Manhattan’s skyline was forever changed, this movie might have had a faint hope and a prayer of somehow being perceived as a perverted love letter to New York City.
But that’s doubtful. Even then, Annie would have come across as oblivious to the world around her and nothing more than a supposed New Yorker who has never stepped near 125th Street.
The bottom line is the material doesn’t work and without offering any new, or at least worthwhile, insight into relationships, it’s just a waste of time.
The movie manages to end on a quasi-hopeful note for two of the characters, but there’s no real sense of happiness other than the audience simply having survived the ordeal and being able to go on with life.
Several times during the course of the movie, Tommy mentions his Catholicism. To that end, the Pope might applaud this movie. It’s such a turnoff watching these characters screw each other over, it’s almost enough to make one quit dating altogether. Inevitably, that would lead to a drastic reduction in unwanted pregnancies.
Now how’s that for a happy ending?