Writer/director/star Ed Burns's fourth film is a charming, low-key ensemble comedy that recalls the films of both John Cassavetes and Woody Allen, which is to say it's a loosely structured, quasi-improvisational saga about a bunch of New Yorkers obsessing about relationships. On some level it's hard not to feel you've seen it all before. But fortunately,...read more
Writer/director/star Ed Burns's fourth film is a charming, low-key ensemble comedy that recalls the films of both John Cassavetes and Woody Allen, which is to say it's a loosely structured, quasi-improvisational saga about a bunch of New Yorkers obsessing about relationships. On some level it's hard not to feel you've seen it all before. But fortunately, Burns puts enough of his personal, bruised-romantic spin on the material to keep it from feeling like a total retread, and he's also helped immeasurably by a uniformly terrific cast. The plot structure is ramshackle; we're introduced to a series of apparently unrelated characters whose lives eventually intersect and form a LA RONDE-style circle. Tommy (Burns) is the bridge-and-tunnel guy who's made it in Manhattan and gone somewhat upscale; while looking for a new apartment, he's temporarily taken up residence with Carpo (Dennis Farina), his hilariously crass and womanizing mentor. Staten Island grammar school teacher Maria (Rosario Dawson) is divorced from aspiring rock star Benjamin (David Krumholtz), who's working as a doorman. Realtor Annie (Heather Graham), a born-and-bred Upper West Sider, is trapped in an unsatisfying marriage to Griffin (Stanley Tucci), a dentist with serious fidelity issues; while NYU student/coffee shop waitress Ashley (Brittany Murphy) contributes to the problem. The film alternates (sometimes awkwardly) between standard narrative sequences and faux documentary interviews with the characters, in which they address the camera directly. Their thoughts about life and love occasionally feel a little pat and author's-messagey, but the acting is generally so good that you don't really mind Tucci, in particular, more or less steals the picture whenever he's on camera. The film is tinged by a certain rueful melancholy that's in part an accident of history. The characters, Tommy in particular, are prone to musing about what it means to be a New Yorker, and in the wake of the World Trade Center attack (which delayed the film's release by more than two months) some of their ruminations are unexpectedly touching, if naive. In fact, there's a brief, gorgeous shot of Burns chattering on about something or other, the Twin Towers framed behind him, that's absolutely startling in its emotional impact.
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