Friday, April 9, 2010

Film Review - New York, New York

Film #40 of 2010 - New York, New York

Opening with the iconic scenery of V-J Day in Times Square in New York, Martin Scorsese's 1977 film New York, New York follows former G.I. and current musician Jimmy Doyle (Robert DeNiro) in a quest to hook up with a girl and celebrate the evening in style. After striking out with several women, he comes across Francine Evans, (Liza Minnelli) a former WAC who also shoots him down, but their witty banter indicates that she is playing hard to get and he's actually interested. After a couple of serendipitous situations, they finally get together, get married, and, since she is actually a singer, they proceed to literally make beautiful music together, traveling the country with a swing band. It soon becomes clear that the rising star is Francine, and soon after they start up their own swing band, when she becomes pregnant with their first child, she moves back to New York to do studio work while Jimmy continues on until the band ultimately fails. Back in New York, Jimmy, already insecure and slightly abusive, struggles with doing what's right for his family and participating in the emerging jazz scene, his obvious true love. Ultimately, the two discover that though they have a mutual attraction and affection for one another, they can only succeed if they are apart.

Scorsese was obviously paying homage to the musicals of the 30's and 40's, from the decision to film it full frame and not wide screen to the obvious sound stages, to the musical montages showing "progress!" The sets are sparse, simple and intentionally theatrical; sometimes they look fake, but that is clearly the intended aesthetic. One thing that I really liked about the film is that nothing is really announced in the film; rather, things just happen, leaving the audience to draw its own conclusions. (For example, when the audiences dwindle after Francine has left the band to return to New York, that is really the first time that we actually have concrete evidence that she was the draw all along.) DeNiro is once again fantastic in another unlikeable role. Jimmy is a complete child who sees Francine's doormat tendencies and completely manipulates her until she finally stands up for herself. The result? He leaves her. I'm not a big fan of Liza, but she's solid in this film, and she gives one hell of a performance of the title song, which I thought was much older than this movie, but turns out to be a product of the film.

Unfortunately, other than a particularly great ending (in that it was not-so-happy, but perfect) there wasn't much else I liked about the film. In an attempt to be epic, it actually came across as overblown and needlessly long. There is a completely nonsensical music number lasting about 20 minutes near the end of the film that makes the movie, which had already been on for well over two hours, come screeching to a halt, and did nothing more than serve as a major irritant. Before that part I was just really tepid about the film, but during and after that long scene I actually started to actively dislike it. Though I've mellowed out a little in the couple of days that I've watched the film, I still think New York, New York is definitely one of Scorsese's missteps. But hey, I guess the guy has earned a couple of those.

2 out of 5 stars

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