An egotistical saxophonist and a young lounge singer meet on VJ Day and embark upon a strained and rocky romance, even as their careers begin a long, uphill climb.An egotistical saxophonist and a young lounge singer meet on VJ Day and embark upon a strained and rocky romance, even as their careers begin a long, uphill climb.An egotistical saxophonist and a young lounge singer meet on VJ Day and embark upon a strained and rocky romance, even as their careers begin a long, uphill climb.
To his credit, Scorsese certainly did nail the look of those old Hollywood films. Actually, he surpassed them. The art direction is a clever blend of the somewhat realistic and the obviously artificial and the cinematography catches the richness and the textures of the pseudo-Technicolor. Some scenes in the film are sights to behold. Nobody should doubt Scorsese's eye for visuals. It is his empathy for humanity that so often falls short.
Even so, NYNY as a musical isn't much to talk about; as a love story it is a disaster. The two stars, Liza Minnelli and Robert DeNiro, have no chemistry personally, plus they come from two different acting backgrounds that don't mesh at all. Liza is theatrical pizzazz, while Robert is grunt and groan method. This is made worse by a screenplay in which they are given little to do beyond argue. The incongruity of the two styles, the two characters and the two actors remains at the forefront since so many of their scenes are confrontational. In concept, I suppose, the oil-and-water idea of a show biz sassy Sally Boles sharing the stage with an inarticulate schmo like Jack LaMotta seems amusing; in action, its just embarrassing.
Minnelli, no doubt, was hired because she was the biggest musical movie star at the time (and being Judy Garland's daughter didn't hurt either). DeNiro is here because, well, because it is a Martin Scorsese movie. Whatever the case, the two actors do not register as a couple. Minnelli comes off best and, at least, gets the opportunity to belt out a couple of songs. It is not surprising that her best moments come when she is center stage alone. Her rendition of the title song is the film's show-stopping highlight; indeed, it is the only reason to endure the rest of the movie. Unfortunately, DeNiro, once again giving a one-note performance of a one-note character, is insufferable. He rants and raves and generally overacts, never once revealing a positive or even engaging aspect to the character, a paranoid, possessive and self-obsessed creep. Sort of a Jake LaMotta with a saxophone. Had the film allowed us to see a side of him that would make him appealing to Minnelli, if not the audience, or even showed him to be a clear-cut villain, exploiting Minnelli's talent to enhance his own career, then at least there would be a reason for the romance/marriage to exist. As is, the two are a couple as a plot device only.
Indeed, as the lumbering story builds to a finale in which the big question is whether the two will reunite, the only genuine response is "Who cares?" The maddening thing about NEW YORK NEW YORK is not just the utter emptiness of the drama, but the waste of effort that went behind it. Scorsese obviously went to great lengths to recreate the look, sound and tone of 1940/50's movies, then squanders it all on a story that had little hope whatsoever of being anything but dull and dreary. Once again, as a stylist, Scorsese is a master; as a person with a sense of empathy and a soul he doesn't even bother. Great movies are made with the heart as well as the eye. As the old saying goes, he can play the notes, but he can't play the music.
- Apr 30, 2004