Tag: ed burns

Sidewalks of New York

Sidewalks of New York (2001)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Sidewalks of New York,” written and directed by Ed Burns, is the kind of picture for audiences who love to listen to interesting people talking about their lives—specifically, what they think of the idea of love versus what it actually is; how they perceive relationships and how it ought to work; how they define sex and how it relates to their own definition of happiness or contentment. The work does not offer the expected three-act structure which is appropriate given its faux-documentary feel. Rather, it employs a freewheeling approach, warm and always welcoming, daring to draw a smile on those willing to look closely and listen. It is not demanded that we judge, but it asks that we relate.

Credit to the casting by Ali Farrell and Laura Rosenthal for choosing effortlessly charismatic performers who are also capable of delivering a spectrum of emotions especially during closeups when the camera aims to capture every bit of tic and twitching of facial muscles. Every person we meet is a curiosity in some way. Although there is interconnection among them, it is refreshing that they do not all meet by the end, forced into a ludicrous situation by a tired setup. Its restraint in handling how the story is presented is quite admirable. Similar works within the sub-genre has shown it is difficult to balance a laidback attitude while maintaining a consistent forward trajectory. Not once does it lose its way.

Particularly intriguing among the strong batch of actors is David Krumholtz, portraying a Jewish doorman named Ben who is convinced he has found love (Brittany Murphy) after having been divorced (Rosario Dawson). In a way, the character represents young idealism; he goes after what he perceives to be love with great enthusiasm and boundless energy, like a puppy given freedom to play and roam at a park on a holiday weekend. But observe closely and recognize his greatest fear: that his life would constantly be defined by the divorce that permanently destroyed a part of him. An important detail of the character is his penchant for music of the past. What is music but love in melody form?

Burns’ screenplay makes numerous smart choices. I enjoyed that even the most unlikable character, played by Stanley Tucci, is given dimension. Yes, the dentist is a womanizer, cheating on his wife (Heather Graham) with a nineteen-year-old waitress (Murphy) at every opportunity, so brazen and obvious about it that everyone at his workplace knows that his “lunch hour” is really a “quickie” trip to a hotel, but the character is shown under a tragic light, too. It is not necessary that we like him; however, it is crucial that we recognize the sadness not only in his situation, especially that he isn’t getting any younger, but also in his desperation. Clearly, he is not built to be in a monogamous relationship and yet he forces himself to fit within such a box. Griffith, so convinced he is always in control, is a product of his environment more than he realizes or care to admit. While some viewers may detest him for his actions, I felt pity for him.

The aforementioned extremes show why the movie works. It does not attempt to write a rulebook on relationships or its trials and tribulations. Rather, the picture is concerned with excavating details from underneath the surface, just like how Burns hopes that the audience comes to appreciate New York not just through its reputation or word-of-mouth but in actually looking at the small details like graffitis on walls, diverse groups of people walking down the street, the noises in the background. It is both a contemporary comedy and a love letter to a place and community that the writer-director clearly loves and respects.


Newlyweds (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Buzzy (Edward Burns) and Katie (Caitlin FitzGerald) are recently married—both in their second marriages—and convinced that they have the perfect relationship for two reasons. First, due to the nature and timing of their jobs, they have a healthy distance from one another—at least more than what “normal” couples share. Second, they have a rule that they must be completely honest with one another—no detail is too insignificant. The newlyweds’ ideal arrangement is tested when Buzzy’s younger sister, Linda (Kerry Bishé), drops in unannounced with hopes of staying with them indefinitely.

Written and directed by Edward Burns, “Newlyweds” offers a handful of truths about modern relationships and some of them are downright ugly. Because the picture has the courage to hone in on relevant issues rather than sweeping them to the side, it is worth seeing. Also, there is a balance of comedy and drama here that is not achieved often enough or in such effortless fashion compared to other movies of its type.

The faux-documentary style makes room for a lot of laughs. The characters are given a chance to be painfully honest when they are addressing the camera directly. These direct-to-camera sequences allow the subjects to have more depth. For instance, as it turns out, someone who may come across as a bit of a harpy when around others actually has a sense of humor when alone or with just one other person.

They reveal their fears and the things they value. Thus, we grow to empathize with them a little bit even though we may not agree with their decisions. It also gives way for irony because one could argue that if these characters were as honest with their spouses or to someone they have a problem with as they were while talking directly to camera, their problems would likely be solved or at least would not have deteriorated.

Performances from lead and supporting actors are on point. Because of the way the script is written and how the performers interpret the lines, one gets the impression that these people have known each other for as long as they claim. Particularly convincing is the marriage between Marsha (Marsha Dietlein), Katie’s older sister, and Marsha’s husband (Max Baker). Having been married for eighteen years, we believe that their relationship has become so rotten to the point where they cannot even look at one another, let alone share a meal without exchanging barbs. There are moments when their exchanges are amusing but there are times when it just gets so ugly, it is uncomfortable listening to them.

A strand that is most surprising to me involves Buzzy’s sister. I could not stand Linda for the majority of the picture but by the time the third act rolls around, there is a actually a sweetness shared between her and Buzzy. I wished, however, that the relationship between these siblings had been fleshed out a bit more because the visit itself is the catalyst that leads Buzzy and Katie to wonder that maybe they do not know each other as much as they initially believed. The change between Buzzy and Linda’s relationship happens so quickly that upon closer examination, it comes across too movie-like.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed “Newlyweds” because of its moments of honesty and it is brave enough to allow certain characters to be unlikable without having the need to correct or redeem in any way what they think or how they feel. Sometimes time and experience just turn people bitter and they become unpleasant to be around. But if you love them, especially if they are family, you try to find it in yourself to be a little more patient and understanding.