Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli
I just want to start by saying that I watched the short version of this film, which is just over 2 hours. There is an almost 3 hour version, which I’ve heard very poor things about. I’m working my way through Scorsese’s filmography and thought if this was a bad one then the short version was the way to go. Now that I’ve seen if, I will go back and watch the longer version at some point.
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, onwards. Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest American directors of all time, especially when it comes to presenting the world as a dark and gritty place. Films like Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Bringing out the Dead and The King of Comedy, all show the dark side of humanity in an all too real way. That’s not to say that Scorsese’s films only show the dark side of the world. Hugo from 2011, is one of his greatest films and it is a beautiful love letter to the origins of cinema and the grandfather of all sci-fi and fantasy George Méliès. Hugo is an amazing film, that is full of wonder and will make you love cinema.
Way back in the late 1970s, Scorsese wanted to break away from the gritty realism with New York, New York. The sets are designed like those from the golden age of Hollywood, with artificial trees, obviously fake painted backgrounds and curbs that are too tall for New York City. The stylised visuals are a treat for the eyes, especially with the old-style aspect ratio that the film is presented in. If you told someone this was filmed in the 50s, then they would probably believe you. Scorsese didn’t break away completely from the gritty realism, with Robert De Niro playing Jimmy Doyle a saxophone player, trying to make his break. He is a borderline sociopath, full of anger at the world and a controlling streak that is simply menacing. If this was played by someone else then Jimmy could be a loveable, charming selfish scoundrel. Almost like Joey from Friends or Barney from How I met Your Mother. That isn’t how De Niro plays him though. There is charm and there are points where you do feel for him, but for the most part the sinister side of him is visible on the surface. This isn’t someone you like, when you know you shouldn’t, Jimmy is someone you hope you never meet.
Jimmy meets Francine Evans, played by Liza Minnelli, at party celebrating the end of the second world war and instantly takes a shine to her. Francine is a rising starlet. Despite her constant rejections and wishes to be left alone, Jimmy persists and keeps on talking to her. The next day, he spots her again and while trying to avoid being seen by the hotel staff ends up in her cab and they spend the day together, leading to their lives to be interwoven from here on out.
There are a lot of similarities in the plot of New York, New York to a much more recent film, La La Land. Both feature musicians meeting rising stars and they fall in love. In both films, they struggle to keep the relationship with their growing success. The big difference is that in La La Land you want them to end up together, while in New York, New York you want Francine to get away from Jimmy as fast as she can.
Jimmy is an interesting character and there is more there than what shows on the surface. It is never explored fully, at least not in the shorter version, but there is hints of something. He dresses down for the celebration party, declining to wear his uniform from his time in the army. One of his friends asks him why he isn’t wearing it and he said he traded it for the shirt he is wearing. He is unhinged throughout, but there is hints of a dark past that could have caused him to act this way. It feels that he is always one word away from snapping, and the war could be what pushed him to this point. It’s interesting that it doesn’t give the full story, but gives you enough to have a good guess.
New York, New York is an interesting film filled with potential, there’s just something missing. The visuals are there, the music is there, the performances are great. It’s just a struggle with such a dislikeable main character that you want to fail. If the film was more from Francine’s perspective, then it would be a great improvement, as you want her to succeed. Their romance isn’t believable. Jimmy is not a good guy and Francine can see that from the start and multiple times throughout. You just want her to get away and never have to cross paths with him again.