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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

New York Stories (1989)



Reviews and Comments

My rating for New York Stories feels too generous. My ratings for each of the three stories contained in this anthology film are 3.5, 1.5, and 3, respectively. The average falls below three stars, but if two thirds of the movie are worth watching, isn't that good enough? Perhaps it's fairer to use the median instead of the mean.

The overall problem is that none of the three stories fit together very well. The best anthologies are connected by a common theme. Here, that common theme is ostensibly the city of New York. That should be sufficient, for the directors of these short films -- Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Woody Allen, all maverick directors from the 1970s -- have each made seminal films set in New York City. The love of the character of the city shines through their work. Surely a collaboration called New York Stories would just be bursting with that passionate understanding.

Unfortunately, it is not. In fact, the best segment -- Martin Scorsese's Life Lessons, starring Nick Nolte -- could have happened in any city, and perhaps does. It's an engrossing character study, though, of an artist who desperately needs the tenuous relationship he has with a woman, but perhaps doesn't need her. There is a lot going on in this quiet, subdued film, and if it is not as hard hitting as Scorsese tends to be, that's probably both a strength and a weakness.

The shift in tone for Coppola's segment, Life Without Zoe, is jarring and disorienting. Suddenly, we are thrown into a world within New York that just doesn't make any sense at all. There are rich kids that don't behave like kids, and a story that doesn't behave like a story. Lacking coherence, it falls apart into a collage of incohesive colors and images and atmosphere.

And then the tone shifts again for Woody Allen's closing segment, Oedipus Wrecks, about a man who is embarrassed and belittled by his overbearing and fault-finding mother. It's played as a comedy, and it works well without particularly feeling like Allen's best effort.

I think I'd have enjoyed New York Stories more if the episodes hadn't been packaged together in such an ill-fitting collection. How about if Scorsese and Allen had each made their own anthologies of entirely their own films, and Coppola just hadn't bothered?