Sunday, September 18, 2011

Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976)

Directed and Written: Paul Mazursky
Duration: 111 mins
In: color
Available to Own: on DVD
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: Coming-of-age Drama
Actors: Lenny Baker, Shelley Winters, Ellen Greene, Lou Jacobi, Jeff Goldblum
Comparable Films: The Graduate, A Bronx Tale, Annie Hall*(Walken Film)
Movie in a Sentence: A young New York Actor and his friends deal with the complications of leaving home, falling in and out of love, suicide and other existential dilemmas.
Should You Watch This: Yes, just be in the right mood for it.
RATING: Objectively 7 out of 10, but Walken's presence bumps it up to an 8
Walken Content: Just under a quarter of the film is Walkenized. But it's a shiiiny quarter!
Walken Quote:  "I did run away from home. When I was 15. I knew I wanted to be a writer. I knew. I also knew I wanted to sleep with a lot of different women. What can I tell you? People get hurt."

General Thoughts: Next Stop, Greenwich Village is a coming-of-age drama set in 1953 about the people in an aspiring actor's life when he moves out of his parents' house and into a tiny apartment in Greenwich Village.

Larry has an overbearing mother (Shelley Winters in an almost cartoon-like performance of THE Jewish mother) who can't let go of her son, and a pregnant (spoiler?) girlfriend (Ellen Greene, remember Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors: "Oh Seemowah!") who doesn't want the baby and may in fact not want Larry either. This is a well-written, well-acted period-piece that explores themes of personal identity, Jewishness, monogamy, abortion, acting (both on the stage and amongst friends), Jewishness, and suicide.
Oh and it's funny too.

Though Larry Lapinsky is the main character, it is the myriad of colorful secondaries that make this film work as well as it does. His boss at the juice bar, Herb, played by Lou Jacobi is great in this. I remember him as Murray from Amazon Women on the Moon, but he was also in Roseland with our own Mr. Walken just a year after this was released. He seems to play the same uber-Jewish oldish-man caricature in everything (and by everything I mean these three films) and that's fine by me because I delight in the rhythms and quirks of that accent. Everything's a question and an accusation simultaneously. He bullies, yells, and goes on tirades, but there's something inherently avuncular about his bull-dog manner. Interestingly, he's like a male version of Larry's mother, but without the screeching.

A shockingly young-looking Jeff Goldblum has a whopping 3 minutes of air-time, but I triple-must mention it because he is a such an endearingly self-righteous ponce in this. He is playing an actor who is flabbergasted that he has to audition for a role, and he isn't afraid to voice his objections or  his opinions with anyone. Wonderful stuff, but oh so brief.

If you don't blink, a sombrero-ed twenty-something Bill Murray is on the screen for all of two seconds as the camera pans across a crowded bar. He is Nick Kessler, the subject of an anecdote Larry tells his girlfriend. I was all like, "What the?! Was that Bill Muray!! Nawwww, it couldn't be." And yet, it was. Uncredited, fleeting, yet undeniably:  Bill Murray.

A lot of the scenes revolve around the friends that Larry has acquired in the Village. But the more I think about them, and their group dynamic, and their back-story, I think I will just let you find out about them yourself, cause let's face it: you've already decided whether or not you're going to track this movie down and watch it. So whaddaya WANT for my life? ... Eh? What's that? More Walken? Agreed.

Though it could be argued that Walken's character, the poet Robert Fulmer, is one of 'the friends,' I would say he is really more of a friendly acquaintance. And when I say 'friendly', I mean he smiles patiently at their jokes and he is playful with them, but Robert is not one of them.

He is like a handsome prince traveling with a motley circus troupe. His clothes are expensive and his poise is elegant, but it is his outspoken pragmatic morality that most noticeably clashes with their liberal sensitivities. He is certainly a minority amongst this group of starry-eyed idealists, but he is chock full of confidence and never misses an opportunity to test the integrity of their opinions. And he does it all with such charm! They love him for it. He uses accents in his anecdotes and quotes William Blake on a whim. Robert is so unwaveringly worldly, charming and well-spoken that he almost seems supernatural standing next to these flawed and emotional young bohemians.

Though I was generally annoyed with Larry and his enthusiastic portrayal of a bad actor and a self-centered boyfriend, I loved his girlfriend, and the friends and everyone else, so in the end, not too shabby. It was funny, and touching, and interesting to see that area of New York in that particular moment of history.

Thirty of the 111 minutes in this film are Walken-filled goodness. He is the antagonist, but he is no villain, and he is not without his own sympathies. Even if you don't buy my opinion of the rest of it, Walken's performance in this film is certainly enough reason by itself to watch it. He conga-dances, Yiddish-talks, and Chaplin-walks out of a cafe. He is a smooth-talking scoundrel and a dastardly bastard.

And he's great.

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