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20th Century Fox presents
"I'm a grown man! I'm not a little boy anymore!"
DVD ReviewThe boroughs of New York City can feel worlds apart and miles away from each other, and this is a story of a journey from boyhood to manhood via the BMT. Paul Mazursky's coming-of-age story is frankly autobiographical, generally engaging, though frequently oversentimental—its nostalgic portrait of lower Manhattan in the early 1950s is a deeply romantic one, though, and Mazursky, who always has demonstrated a keen eye for actors, peppers his cast with excellent performers doing great work, in roles large and small.
This is the story of Larry Lupinsky, who breaks free of the shackles of Brooklyn to find his way in the Manhattan neighborhood of the title. He's just out of college, and wants desperately to be a great actor—but for now he's working a lunch counter to make rent, dreaming of being invited to join the Actors Studio and work with Lee and Marlon and Gadg, and trying to get his girlfriend, Sarah, to have sex with him as frequently as possible. Larry's friends are self-conscious characters—Sarah wants to be a dancer; no week is complete without one of Anita's threatened suicide attempts; Robert talks about being a great poet and playwright, but seems much more interested in sexual conquests than in filling up the blank page. Full of dreams and cappuccino, they all want to shed their bourgeois backgrounds and pursue some sort of aesthetic greatness.
Larry's baggage is considerable, though, embodied principally by his frequently hysterical mother, desperate for her boy to find a nice girl and a trade. She's played by Shelley Winters in a loopy, manic performance, and in truth Mazursky's work here lacks pungency, making this feel like very cut-rate early Philip Roth. It kind of gets at a problem at the heart of the movie: Larry doesn't seem like much of an actor (if his Odets scene in class is any indication), and he's not the most winning guy, either. We're supposed to care for him because, well, because he's the hero of our story, I guess, but Mazursky never really closes the deal, leaving us feeling a little adrift. (Lenny Baker has lots of comic brio as Larry, but he's not enough to carry us along.) All the right signifiers of the 1950s are thrown in—McCarthy, the Rosenbergs, A Streetcar Named Desire—but the time and place of the movie always feel more like an older man's rosily edited memory, and not the genuine article.
But there are plenty of pleasures here. Ellen Greene has a welcoming frankness as Sarah, especially if you only know the actress from her cartoony performance in Little Shop of Horrors, and even better, as Robert, is Christopher Walken (billed here as "Chris Walken"). You can hear the emergence of the deeply peculiar Walken syntax, and his Robert seems always to be in on a joke that he's just not going to share. Lois Smith as Anita achieves a kind of whimsy that's very difficult to bring across, and Mazursky has cast in small parts two others who went on to greater glory: Jeff Goldblum plays a high-maintenance, deeply insecure struggling actor whose temper costs him a big audition, and in a role with a single line but a loony, Rollie Fingers-style moustache, is a very young Bill Murray.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: The color palette looks pretty muddied up in this transfer, appearing as if the print was allowed to fade and that nothing was done to make it look any better for DVD.
Image Transfer Grade: C
Audio Transfer Review: Some of the dialogue sounds a little sloppy as well, though the stereo track is preferable to the mono.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Paper Chase, The Poseidon Adventure, An Unmarried Woman
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Paul Mazursky and Ellen Greene
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsToo treacly too often, the movie seems more a collection of fond remembrances than a searing look at the travails of a young man coming of age. But Mazursky's writing is occasionally sharp, and he gets some very good work from a talented young cast.
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