December 6, 2001

Sound Familiar?

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The trailer for Sidewalks of New York asks, “In a city of 8 million people, what are the odds the perfect two will meet?” Therefore, I ask, what are the odds that writer/director/actor Ed Burns will produce yet another film dealing with love and relationships in New York City? After his strikingly similar films, Brothers McMullen and She’s the One, his most recent endeavor is his third strike at the romantic comedy. Like the others, Sidewalks of New York is both trite and remotely charming. Burns, a talented actor, seems unable to detach himself from his ongoing quest to scour the social geography of New York as a backdrop for discovering the ultimate answer to relationship dilemmas.

The film opens with an anonymous cameraman polling 6 seemingly random New Yorkers asking, “At what age did you lose your virginity?” The characters include Annie (Heather Graham), an idealistic real estate agent. She’s married to Griffin (Stanley Tucci), a sleazy dentist whose affair with Ashley (Brittany Murphy), a 19-year-old NYU student, sets his marriage on unsteady ground. Benjamin, a doorman from Brooklyn, also courts Ashley, and is recently divorced from Marie, a young schoolteacher and relationship cynic. Finally, Tommy (Ed Burns), the lynchpin of the crew, is a 32-year-old television producer with a heavy dose of Queens pride, and romantic interests in both Annie and Marie.

Despite Burns’ potential to use this tightly knit cast for in-depth character development, he offers only a shallow portrayal of each. While he achieves a Woody Allen-esque cynical depiction of love and an affectionate view of New York City, he lacks Allen’s character complexity. The journalistic interludes that separate each scene offer candid views of the characters’ opinions on love, sex, and relationships — providing the film’s only hint of character development.

The script is commendable for its subtle, although somewhat long-winded humor. The acting is mediocre to good, considering the character limitations. The only glaring flaw comes from Heather Graham, whose skills have not improved any since The Spy Who Shagged Me.

Despite my overall negativity, I offer two items of praise for Sidewalks of New York. The mock-documentary style approach, using a handheld camera, provides the viewer with an intimate window into the lives of these six New Yorkers. Cinematic failings aside, Burns presents a refreshing view of New York City. The individual romances extend the notion that, in the microcosm of city life, human drama persists. Since much of the film takes place in the East Village and highlights the bustling activity on the sidewalks of New York, we are reminded that daily life must continue in the face of tragedy.

To his credit, Burns chooses not give the film a happily-ever-after ending. Instead, he presents the frustrations of the interwoven group as they stumble through the roadblocks of love and relationships. While the ending raises many questions and offers few answers, the film’s moral rings loudly: love is a journey, not a destination.

Archived article by Gillian Klempner