Get ready for a wildly diverse, star-studded trilogy about life in the big city. One of the most talked-about films of the year, New York Stories features the creative collaboration of three of America’s most popular directors, Martin Scorsese (The Color of Money), Francis Coppola (The Godfather) and Woody Allen (Hannah and Her Sisters).
New York Stories 6.0
‘New York Stories’ should be better than it actually is – after all, it was directed by none other than Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. But this three-part anthology is a frank mess: not only does it have very little to do with New York (other than using it as a backdrop, that is ), but the quality of each short varies wildly from outrageously funny to nauseatingly bad.
Perhaps the point was to serve up quintessentially New York-y experiences. If such is the case, the only way one is to know is by having lived in New York for a while, to pick up on the films’ finer flavours. But, as someone who mostly knows of NYC through motion pictures, I found it difficult to see the connection. I’m guessing that Scorsese portrayed the ’80s New York art scene accurately, that perhaps Coppola wanted to show how the rich live in the Big Apple, and Allen made a satirical jibe at New Yorker attitudes.
I’m just guessing, though. All I know is that I likely would not have made it through this dismal affair if not for my pursuit of all things Woody Allen – and since his short came last, I had motivation enough to soldier on. Thankfully, he more than delivered – enough so that his film made up for the rest.
But it’s hard to gauge from my rating, so here is each short’s individual score, along with a few comments:
Life Lessons 4.5
This is the story of a painter with an obsession for his live-in assistant. Their turbulent affair crashed to a halt when she left on holidays but, upon her return, she finds herself under pressure to remain under his roof, as she considers her options.
I hated both characters. I found him unstable and possibly dangerous, and she was an emotionless shell. Nick Nolte and Rosanna Arquette did what they could with the parts, but there wasn’t much to salvage them, in my opinion – they were both unsavoury characters for various reasons.
It didn’t help that I didn’t understand his obsession nor her acquiescence of the situation; she wasn’t at all magnetic and he was far too erratic to be around (in fact, the first time I saw the movie, I feared he would attack/rape her ). And the dialogue was frequently unbelievable, if not moronic (for instance, when she dares him to prove his love to her ).
Thank goodness this was a short, ’cause I could never have endured a feature-length version of this same tale. I don’t know which life lessons this story purports to teach, but what I got out of it is that even the most critically-acclaimed people can screw up big time.
Life Without Zoë 1.0
This one fails massively on all counts: script, acting, direction, dialogue, music, …etc. I don’t know what happened to the genius that was once Francis Ford Coppola, but this is a low point for sure.
Given that he co-wrote the script with his daughter Sophia, and that she was also in charge of costuming, I suspect that this was a family project – to give her a taste for filmmaking.
If that is the case, then it was well worth it: she’s made at least two terrific films that probably wouldn’t exist otherwise. If I’m wrong about this, however, then I don’t understand just what went through Coppola’s mind. Of course, this is the same man who would introduce the world to Sofia’s acting inability in ‘The Godfather, Part II’ the following year.
I absolutely couldn’t sympathize with the “poor”, entitled rich girl in ‘Life Without Zoë’; nothing that she did was interesting or made any sense. And the “actors” were almost all atrocious. Risibly so, in fact. Meanwhile, the dialogue was stilted and ridiculous. So, combined with the unbelievably grating delivery, the agony was driving me utterly mad.
This is insipid garbage. I would have preferred to eat redigested dog vomit while a mass of banshees screamed at ear-piercing levels and tap-danced on my head than to watch this; this short has no redeeming value whatsoever other than as a torture device for only the most soul-less, vile individuals humankind has ever produced!
Oedipus Wrecks 8.5
I have no idea if ‘Oedipus Wrecks’ deserves as much praise as I’d like to lavish upon it, or if I only feel that way because it was such a relief after the endurance test of the first 78 minutes (you know, after eating Krap Dinner, McDonald’s might seem like a mouth-watering delicacy ).
While it will feel familiar to Allen fans, due to returning players and locations, ‘Oedipus Wrecks’ is actually a break from his usual shtick: this time, he focuses on a man’s tense relationship with his mother. While he has covered family relationships in the past, he’s done so in a more general way – unlike here, where it’s all about the impact that his critical, omnipresent mother has on his life.
It’s a comedy, though, and he throws in a few surprises along the way for laughs – including his mother vanishing mysteriously during a magic act. Allen plays up a few stereotypes about seniors long the way, and throws in some confessional bits as his character unloads on his therapist. It’s all done to great effect, even if it becomes patently absurd at times. The only weak point is the ending, with features Julie Kavner as a psychic who tries to help him.
All in all, I’d say that ‘Oedipus Wrecks’ is a success. It was the first volley in a resurgent career, after a slight lag in the previous couple of years. It’s without a doubt one of the more memorable works of Woody Allen’s. ‘New York Stories’ is worth seeing for that reason alone, and it’s the only reason I bothered to pick up the Blu-ray when it came out.