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Sidewalks of New York

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Sidewalks of New York

Starring: Edward Burns, Heather Graham
Director: Edward Burns
Rated: R
RunTime: 107 Minutes
Release Date: November 2001
Genres: Comedy, Romance

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

There are seven million stories in New York, the world's most exciting city. The six principal ones related by the comic genius Edward Burns in "Sidewalks of New York" are not unique, not necessarily encompassing even the most dramatic or exciting of the lives of the people who inhabit Our Town. But Burns has a way of making us think they are. Maybe this talent has something to do with the subject of his movie: sex, or at least love and sex, not necessarily in that order. Maybe it has to do with the diverse mix of performers who represent characters of various ages from youthful adults to middle-aged. Most of all, I think it has to do with the nature of the their dilemma: their feeling that somehow there is a void, that life is passing them by, that while they long for stability, they may be missing some greater adventure or, that conversely, while they're seeking some greater quest, what they really lack in their lives is balance.

"Sidewalks of New York," the third film which he has written and directed and in which he has taken the principal role (he is also working now on "Ash Wednesday"), is an updated version of Max Ophuls 1950 film"La Ronde"--a witty account of various people having affairs, forming a chain that eventually comes full circle. Burns deliberately eschews the European flair, the particular sophistication of the work that perhaps inspired it, choosing instead more American urban take on this universal western theme But it may not be dismissed as mere fluff. You could well leave the theater in a somber mood, because after the laughs, the recognition that your hopes and fears are reflected in the lives of the people on the screen could lead you to reassess your own Grand Design. In that sense, "Sidewalks of New York," while less entertaining than Burns's "She's the One" (about a fella who married on impulse after discovering that his wife is cheating on him), and the director's smashing debut "The Brothers McMullen" (a compelling tale of three brothers with different personalities living under one roof), carries more gravidas.

Thoroughly character-driven and piloted by mock interviews in a faux-documentary style, "Sidewalks" deals with six New Yorkers from various walks (so to speak) of life whose lives and loves weave and twine and ultimately fall together at the bittersweet conclusion. Queens-born Tommy (played by writer-director Burns as the principal character as would Woody Allen were he to direct the film), is Mr. Outer-Borough, a guy who does not take to self- disparagement just because he did not grow up in Manhattan but instead believes that Manhattan would not exist were it not for people like him. He is living with the slick Carpo (Dennis Farina), who considers himself Tommy's mentor in love and sex, claiming 500 conquests in the past year, lessons that Tommy does not necessarily follow when flirting with sixth-grade teacher Maria (Rosario Dawson), who has been divorced for a year from Brooklyn doorman Benjamin (David Krumholtz). Perhaps the most involving of the eternal triangles exists among Griffin (Stanley Tucci), a Park Avenue dentist married to trophy wife and real-estate agent Annie (Heather Graham) but conducting an affair with Iowa-transplant Ashley (Brittany Murphy) who is twenty years his junior.

As this is Burns's most character-driven movie, you get the impression that he scours up as much chatter as would an Eric Rohmer, but there's nothing static in this fast-paced yarn. Burns's cameraman, Frank Prinzi, switches repeatedly from an unidentified interviewer who asks mighty personal questions about sex to each character to the same individuals as they actually live their love lives--a kind of show-and-tell, tell-and-show merry-go- roundelay of escapades. Our sympathies go out to all, even to the conniving, lying, sniveling dentist who flat-out lies to his wife about his affair with an adorable waitress. If Burns is taking sides, it's generally with the women: not that he'd go along with Dr. T. that all women are saints, since after all Ashley must share the blame as a housebreaker with Griffin, and Maria must come to terms with her refusal to return Tommy's sincere calls. The film was shot in just 17 days and though they're tightly scripted, the performers with almost no exception have the proclivity to say "y'know" repeatedly, an annoying tic that Burns may have copied from one of Woody Allen's bad habits.

Men and women might both pick up a few pointers on how to flirt, whether at the video store, in a museum, in the park, in a coffee shop, even in the dentist's office. Side characters play their part to strengthen the film's vision, particularly Michael Leydon Campbell in the double role as the multi-pierced young band member Glo and a middle-aged married guy, Harry, who wants to build a log cabin in the woods (most likely to have a place to take his women rather than to read Plato under the stars).

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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