4 TALES OF 2 CITIES groups together four short films set in New York and Los Angeles and directed by performers taking a turn behind the camera. The results are mildly interesting, but none of the four shorts makes a great impact.
The first of the four tales, "Urban Legend," takes place in downtown Manhattan, where a troubled young woman, Annie (Julia Mueller), sits on a park bench and receives unexpected comfort from a homeless woman (Jan Leslie Harding) who claims to be a psychoanalyst. Through their unusual encounter
session, Annie gains a new perspective on her despair, after which the odd woman moves on to coach a basketball player nearby.
The second story, "Phinehas," also takes place in Manhattan, inside the basement of a man named Billy (Patrick Breen). Billy has kidnapped a children's television show puppet named Phinehas (the voice of Preston Foerder) in the futile hope that the popular "Phinehas" show will educate the public
on AIDS. He also makes demands on the puppet that are unrealistic at best. In the end, Phinehas comforts Billy while he dies of AIDS.
Set in LA, "Boy Crazy Girl Crazier," focuses on an aspiring actress (Illeana Douglas) who gets dumped by her actor-boyfriend (Kevin Breznahan) after they return from a Hollywood party. The actress' sadness turns to rage, however, when she learns that a top director picked the young man for a movie
role she had wanted--he obtained it by pretending he was gay, and recounting his girlfriend's stormy life story, claiming it as his own. She takes revenge on her caddish ex-lover by threatening him physically and forcing him to call the director and confess that he is not worthy of the role. In
the end, the actress gets the part.
The last story, "The Duke of Groove," is set in 1970, also in LA. On the night of a big Hollywood party, Rebecka (Kate Capshaw) invites her 15-year-old son, Rich (Tobey Maguire), to escort her while her husband is away. Rich is excited at the prospect of meeting celebrities at the party, and
gladly accepts the invitation. At the wild shindig, Rebecka gets stoned, while Rich looks on in awe at the arrival of Janis Joplin (Jennifer Lloyd) and other celebrities. He also receives his first kiss from a beautiful hippie named Maya (Uma Thurman). After the party, Rebecka tells Rich the truth
about her marriage: it's over. Later in his bedroom, Rich is comforted by a vision of Janis Joplin.
Like GIRLFRIENDS (1996), 4 TALES OF 2 CITIES shrewdly links several disparate short subjects by a single theme and packages the bunch as a feature. GIRLFRIENDS centers around contemporary lesbian issues; 4 TALES deals with urban angst, but the results of the latter are somewhat more mixed.
It's difficult to pick a "best tale" from the four, since the most technically polished, "Boy Crazy Girl Crazier" (nicely photographed in widescreen by Kent Wakeford), is also the least interesting narratively. Star-director-writer Ileanna Douglas goes over the top with her performance, and
belabors the dog-eat-dog spoof aspects of the Hollywood "scene."
The longest tale, the Oscar-nominated "The Duke of Groove," is an ambitious (albeit unconvincing) effort to recreate another era. Co-written by Griffin Dunne (who directed) and Adam Brooks, it features the biggest stars (Kiefer Sutherland and Elliot Gould make cameos). Unfortunately, it sours as
it progresses due to the writers' reactionary attitude toward hippie culture and women. The final shot involving the vision of Joplin also rankles because of its pretentiousness and the inexplicable use of a Bob Dylan (not a Joplin) song on the soundtrack.
By default, the New York tales, while highly theatrical, are much more successful. Adrienne Shelly's "Urban Legend" captures city "craziness" without being condescending to its characters, and Fisher Stevens's "Phinehas" (written by its star, Patrick Breen), while somewhat drab, is surprisingly
touching. (Violence, adult situations, substance abuse, profanity.)
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- Released: 1996
- Rating: NR
- Review: 4 TALES OF 2 CITIES groups together four short films set in New York and Los Angeles and directed by performers taking a turn behind the camera. The results are mildly interesting, but none of the four shorts makes a great impact. The first of the four ta… (more)