An alternately funny and touching dramedy about marriage, fidelity, and
finding the right person in a city of millions, "Sidewalks of New York"
is the most assured and smart directorial effort of filmmaker-actor
Edward Burns (1995's "The Brothers McMullen," 1996's "She's the One,"
1998's "No Looking Back"). Heavily reminiscent of Woody Allen's oeuvre
(particularly 1979's "Manhattan" and 1992's "Husbands and Wives"), the
film is not quite an equal to that veteran's best work, but does a more
than acceptable job at portraying true-to-life characters with real
emotions and understandable flaws.
32-year-old Tommy (Edward Burns) is an "Entertainment Tonight"-style
television producer who has just been thrown out of his apartment by a
girlfriend. Without a place to stay, he seeks the aid of a realtor named
Annie (Heather Graham), whom he starts to like despite her being involved
in an unhealthy marriage with the philandering 39-year-old Griffin (Stanley
Tucci). Griffin claims to love Annie, but, nonetheless, is cheating on
her with 19-year-old Ashley (Brittany Murphy), a bright but confused
coffee shop waitress/NYU student. With Ashley growing unsatisfied with
her random motel trysts with the inconsiderate Griffin, she is charmed
when one of her customers, Ben (David Krumholtz), takes a liking to her.
As for Ben, he is recently divorced from Maria (Rosario Dawson), a young
sixth-grade teacher who hasn't thought about starting a new relationship
until she meets the desirable Tommy in a video store.
Intercut between many of the scenes are faux documentary interviews with
all six of the central characters, as they relate their individual ideas,
feelings, and histories about love and sex. While these segments could
have come off as self-absorbed and superfluous in lesser hands, they
actually enhance the viewer's understanding of where these people are
"Sidewalks of New York" is a perceptive and realistic glimpse into a handful
of individuals' problematic love lives. All of the ideas have been treaded
out on familiar ground in the past, but the screenplay, as written by
Edward Burns, carries a pleasant flow that manages to be exact and on
target with the way things are in the real world. The characters speak
and act with the sort of authenticity rarely seen in films today, and
the handheld camera approach makes for a very documentary-like experience.
Even if the writing and directing is superb, this type of character and
dialogue-driven piece always sinks or swims with the actors involved.
Director Burns has luckily gotten the casting exactly right; there isn't
a weak link in all of its six major performers.
Edward Burns, who always stars in his own pictures, nicely plays Tommy as
a man who has made a few missteps in his past with the opposite sex, but
is now mature enough to want to have a serious relationship. As the
frustrated Annie, a woman who has fooled herself for too long into
believing that her marriage is a strong one, Heather Graham (2001's "From
Hell") is radiant and intuitive in her best performance, to date.
Rosario Dawson (2001's "Josie and the Pussycats") is strongly effective
as Maria, a 24-year-old grappling with whether she is ready, or even
wants, a significant other at this stage in her life. In the one scuzzy
part in the film, Stanley Tucci (2001's "America's Sweethearts") is
perfectly smarmy as the unfaithful, self-involved Griffin. Taking on his
first adult movie role, David Krumholtz (1999's "10 Things I Hate About
You") is charmingly sweet as the somewhat naive, but always honest, Ben.
Rounding out the cast is the always-luminous Brittany Murphy (2001's
"Riding in Cars with Boys"), one of the most talented young actresses
working today in yet another delicious turn. Murphy's Ashley is an
innocent and funny soul whose confusion and mistakes she effortlessly
While the other subplots are always involving and intelligent, it is the
idealistically beautiful love story that evolves between Ben and Ashley
that gives "Sidewalks of New York" its real heart. Krumholtz and Murphy
are delightful together, and their scenes are especially lovely to watch
play out with the sort of unaffected naturalism magical movie romances
are made of. You find yourself hoping for the best for nearly all of
the characters, as "Sidewalks of New York" spins another example of why
so many people are unequivocally attracted to the city that never sleeps.
Copyright © 2001 Dustin Putman