This brash, perceptive, ultimately winning cyclical comedy first introduces us to good-looking, nice-guy Tommy (Ed Burns) who has just split up with his girlfriend and has been thrown out of her apartment. Tommy takes a sudden interest in evasive school teacher Maria (Rosario Dawson), whom he meets in a video store. Maria is divorced from small, tough-talking schlmiel Ben (David Krumholtz), a doorman and rock musician wannabe who cheated on her. Ben, still pining for Maria, finds a welcome distraction in edgy student/waitress Ashley (Brittany Murphy), who is having an affair with a much older and married dentist, Griffin (Stanley Tucci), whose suspecting wife Annie (Heather Graham), a real estate agent, has her eye on one of her customers, Tommy (back to Ed Burns again), who is (remember?) looking for a new pad since his girlfriend kicked him out. So much for the Kevin Bacon six degrees of separations and divorces angle.
To punch up the thought processes of our six relationship-minded specimens, Burns has given his film a documentary/reality TV feel. Each of our protagonists express their own individual and personal philosophies on the meaning of love and sex with a `man on the street' interviewer. These telling bits are conveniently spliced here and there into each of their ongoing stories, which are not only a biting commentary on the social scene, but often humorously contradict their actions and intent.
Burns, a native New Yorker, gives us a passionate, authentic, down-to-earth vision of his 'hood. No picaresque postcard images are to be found here. No tourist-like views of Rockefeller Center, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, etc. And just as dressed-down and down-to-earth is his solid ensemble cast. The stories are evenly laid out with no one performance getting short shrift. Burns, Dawson, Tucci, Murphy, Klumholtz, and Graham all have meaty roles here and each of their stories are well-presented and attention-grabbing. The philandering Tucci character, the least sympathetic of the bunch, still manages to drum up some pity, if not sympathy, for his subsequent actions. What's more, the outside circle, the peripheral friends/instigators/colleagues, etc., add immeasurably to the humor and atmosphere of the piece, particularly Aida Turturro as a worldly wise teacher/friend of Dawson's, Dennis Farina as Burns' overt male chauvinist boss, Michael Leydon Campbell in dual roles as a rocker and male half of a bickering married couple, and Callie Thorne as the bickering wife.
No one treats New York better than Woody Allen. With "Sidewalks of New York" Edward Burns pays tribute to this fair city, and he pays homage to Mr. Allen -- 1992's "Husbands and Wives" in particular. Notice Burns' analytical approach to his characters, the hand-held camera work and jump-cut style of editing (which is actually smoother and less jolting than in Allen's above-mentioned film), the pneumatic jazz score, the reflexive, conversational-like bantering between his characters, the episodic storylines, and, most importantly, the obvious devotion he has for NY. It all but spells out W-O-O-D-Y. But, in this case, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. He's learned well from the master.