New York Stories

Movie Review #824: Three stories, two good.

★★½
By Alexander Diminiano
new_york_stories

Comedy, Drama, Romance
Rated PG (contains profanity, suggestive dialogue)
124 minutes

I’m not really a fan of anthology films. The guarantee is seldom of a great movie, but instead of a randomized compilation of good and bad short subjects. Some folks tend to like this concept, and perhaps the better segments are what stand out to them. “Paris, je t’aime”, for example. If you saw it, you more than likely loved it. I thought it was all right.

The three films that make up the anthology film of “New York Stories” are, of course, longer than most short subjects. (Two of the three, in fact, exceed forty minutes, which is commonly considered as the minimum run time for a “feature-length” film.) As “New York Stories” does not function as one single unit of a movie, and features a small number of films within its anthology, each one of a reviewable length, I find it fitting to simply review each segment separately:

“Life Lessons”

★★★

Martin Scorsese‘s “Life Lessons” segment is ever so charmingly delivered by Nick Nolte and Rosanna Arquette. We just can’t stop loving this couple in the beginning of this third of “New York Stories”.

But this first segment becomes repetitive eventually, and even a bit confusing. Nolte’s character suffers in his lack of consistency. Is he just possessive, or is he actually in love with Arquette’s character? Does he approve of her artistic talent, or does he dislike it because he simply prefers his own? We really begin to feel bad for Arquette for being with this guy. No doubt, she’s beautiful, but she doesn’t love him, and worse yet, she doesn’t care. She just wants to know if he loves her before she officially moves in with him and continues to work in his art studio.

“Life Lessons” is poorly paced and, while well-written in certain areas, its characters are rather uneven. Maybe the star of this whole show is Steve Buscemi. Granted, he appears for thirty seconds, but he gives a powerful speech that, as far as I’m concerned, is award-worthy. His performance may have absolutely no meaning to or effect on the story itself, but it gives the segment’s final grade an extra half a star.

“Life without Zoë”

Do we really, honestly, truly, actually, sincerely, have to have such an obnoxious segment in this movie, or at all? “Life without Zoë” is bookmarked by the talentless acting of Heather McDonald, and in fact, it opens with her hellacious little voice narrating about how she lives in this fancy-ass hotel leading this fancy-ass life and living every moment of it in all its fancy-ass glory, as her fancy-ass parents travel abroad on these fancy-ass private jets and this lobby boy who works at the hotel does the honors of wiping her fancy ass. I was about ready to shout something at the screen. Something like, “Jesus Christ, Zoë, you’re twelve! We get it, you’re privileged, damn it, but that gives you no right to treat the lobby boy like you do!” To say the lobby boy plays the role of Zoë’s servant is not quite accurate. He’s more like her slave.

To say the least, “Life without Zoë” is an incredibly annoying segment, and being that it makes up part of a 1989 film, it’s no wonder people often say Francis Ford Coppola‘s career bought the farm after “Apocalypse Now”. (Ain’t it just so ironic that the moment Coppola churns out a film called “Apocalypse Now”, his career sees an apocalypse of its very own?)

The title “Life without Zoë” makes me think of a funeral for a person named Zoë. Maybe if Zoë referred to someone older than twelve, it’d be slightly more acceptable to say that I wish this funeral were a part of the story. I don’t mean anything brutal of this character or any real figures she may have been based on. I just really hate her character, and if I cared to hate it so much, I’d hate it with a burning passion. “Life without Zoë” is an annoying and shallow late-80’s preteen lifestyle fantasy. I grade it ever so generously, because I did enjoy Talia Shire’s performance.

“Oedipus Wrecks”

★★★

This segment, for me, was the best of the bunch, and maybe that has to do with the fact that I got a really good laugh out of it. “Oedipus Wrecks” opens with Woody Allen (its star, writer, and director) recounting a dream he had in which his mother had died. He expects to drive her to the cemetery in peace, but instead, he finds that her voice is erupting from the casket behind him, demanding a chance to give him directions to the cemetery.

There’s a fantastical element to this segment, and even so, “Oedipus Wrecks” is highly relatable. The film centers on the nebbish lead male’s mother as she hovers over the Chrysler Building, bragging about her son to everybody in the City of New York. How does this happen? Her son takes her to a magic show to meet his fiancée’s kids from a previous relationship, and while she’s onstage volunteering for a certain trick, she vanishes. Evidently, she has taken to residing above the Chrysler Building as a gigantic face among the clouds, until her son can find a fiancée that she approves of.

Ultimately, she does come down. This is after Woody Allen meets and falls in love with a phony “ghost whisperer”-type person. Predictable? Kind of. Believable? No. Especially not the fact that Woody’s mother actually approves of this woman. Hell, Woody barely even approves of her.

It seems I have just given away an event-for-event spoiler of what happens in this third and final segment. But I haven’t given away the humor itself, and therefore you don’t know quite how funny it is until you’ve seen it for your own two eyes. “Oedipus Wrecks” is absolutely delightful to watch. It’s short, conventional Woody Allen, and at forty-one minutes, it flies by in no time at all. And the real star of this story isn’t just Woody’s writing. Mae Questel, in the role of Woody’s mother, succeeds with every line she delivers.

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