Edward Burns’s latest Woody Allen project, Sidewalks of New York (think “Sex and the City” meets Husbands and Wives for the Gen-X crowd), carries with it the weight of 9/11. With the World Trade Center’s specter as a backdrop, Burns delivers one of many face-to-camera diatribes while standing on a SoHo roof (possibly that of John F. Kennedy Jr.‘s loft, now owned by Burns—blink during one scene and you’ll even miss the flower vigils that once inundated the loft’s exterior). Tommy (Burns) has been ousted from his girlfriend’s apartment, rooming temporarily with foul-mouthed co-worker Carpo (Dennis Farina) while real-estate agent Annie (Heather Graham, Bruns’s ex-flame) tries to find him an apartment. You might be sucker-punched by the placement of the WTC when a cocky Tommy dubs bridge-and-tunnel folk the true owners of New York; for him, they have the luxury of appreciating the city from the outer boroughs. Far more chilling is Annie’s distaste for her cushy Upper East Side society (you know, the one with no problems). She may not care about how many orgasms Sarah Jessica Parker has had, though she secretly longs for sexual pleasure while contemplating New York’s ability to stick together during the bad times. That’s as far as the film’s frightening serendipity goes, which might be enough horror for those unmoved by the film’s oh-so-cute romantic entanglings. Divorced Maria (Rosario Dawson) meets Tommy at the local video store when they both fiend for a helping of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Crazy Brittany Murphy’s NYU gal rewrites downtown NYC-living by inexplicably affording a Washington Street apartment with a job at a dragless Stingy Lulu’s. She beds Annie’s dentist husband Griffin (Stanley Tucci) while entertaining the possibility of love with Maria’s doorman ex-husband, Ben (David Krumholtz). As reductive as it is comfortably airtight, Sidewalks is a lovely romantic scruple for those weary of the Woodster’s aging neuroses. As the gaps in Allen’s romantic pairings widen in proportion to his increased sexual voraciousness, Burns addresses less ghoulish and more pressing matters: gay-friendly guys not wanting to be taken for flamers, all hoping to “get some” while their scrotums still smell showery fresh. More importantly, can oral sex be considered sex? Discuss.
Sidewalks of New York remains relatively good-looking for a film so economically shot. While low lighting seems to compromise many of the film's interior scenes (the blacks could be clearer), skin tones are warm and accurate. The English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround is serviceable. Though sometimes muddled, the dialogue-heavy soundtrack is still very clear.
Included on Paramount's Sidewalks of New York DVD is a lively and engaging commentary track with director Ed Burns that, if anything else, serves as a king of how-to manual for the low-budget independent filmmaker. Burns wrote the screenplay for the film while on the set of Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. Though inspired by that film's hand-held photography, the structure of Sidewalks came together with the help of documentary editor David Greenwald. Burns discusses the importance of keeping the WTC in many of the film's scenes, Spielberg's approach to directing, and the economical nature of the liberating 17-day shoot. He asked his actors for none of that "Hollywood bullshit" and it definitely shows. The only other feature on this lightweight DVD package is the Sundance Channel's "Anatomy of a Scene" focus on Sidewalks of New York. The cast and crew came together to emphasize the interlocking nature of the film, focusing mainly on the video store scene where the characters played by Ed Burns and Rosario Dawson first meet.
Yes, it's a fluffy package, but the director's commentary is an engaging reminder that good cinema can come from very small budgets.