The poster marquee is a film-lover’s dream: Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola all contributing to one film. Three directors, three distinct styles and two public passions: films and New York. Toss them all together and you get New York Stories, a decidedly mixed bag that ranges from m’eh to perfectly tolerable.
Scorsese leads off with Life Lessons, a tale about Lionel Dolbie (Nick Nolte), a famous painter, and his obsession with Paulette (Rosanna Arquette), his young assistant. She is his muse. In return, he is like a father figure, at least the kind a teenager tries to piss off at every chance. There’s much fighting, relationship deepening, messing with one another’s hearts and so forth. And it’s all done to a backdrop of the world of fine art.
Life Lessons is moderately successful, particularly in getting into Lionel and Paulette’s heads. It’s a cruel film that is hard to watch at times when it pegs an emotional truth. Unfortunately there is often a lot in between that doesn’t feel as good. It gets caught up in the world of art snobbery and really left me feeling somewhat isolated and distant.
The “m’eh” of New York Stories is the middle story – Life Without Zoe, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It follows Zoe (Heather McComb), the daughter of New York socialites who lives in a snazzy hotel. Her parents are frequently away on trips and whatnot so Zoe is left to fend for herself. And man is life tough for a socialite junior princess. I mean, she has to withdraw funds from the lobby currency exchange.
Life Without Zoe attempts to show some of the absurdities of children forced to grow up before they have a chance to live like kids – kind of like Peter Pan in reverse. As a general rule, I’m cautious of films meant for adults starring children. It’s hard for any director to make them convincing. Unfortunately Coppola fails and Life Without Zoe is something that I doubt many would have fretted over.
Finally there’s Woody Allen’s Oedipus Rex, a witty little ditty about a middle-aged man with “mommy issues”. After taking his mother (Mae Questel) to a magic show, Sheldon (Allen) is faced with the challenge of having to deal with her day and night as she transforms into a bizarre floating head that takes over downtown New York City. Sheldon is embarrassed as she talks a little too sweetly and openly about her son’s growing up and her wishes for him to leave his fiancée (Mia Farrow).
Above all else, Oedipus Rex is cute. The sweet Questel and her endearing mouse voice are a big part of it, but there’s also the signature slick banter of Allen’s and the genuine effort to make all of the characters rounded despite being just a short film.
New York Stories is ultimately a gimmick film that uses its three hall-of-fame directors to get you watching. But once you’re in, the end result is something that is diverse but not entirely fulfilling. Each film is distinct from the other in its tone, which in some ways is good, but it also hinders any rhythm from emerging other than the fact that this club loves a certain city.
New York Stories Gallery