What to do while watching: It was only being physically tired that kept me from doing anything during Crooks. On the other hand, it took me about 96 hours to get to the end of Somewhere. I found that almost anything--from Mrs. Worsted's first disparagement of the film to a cat meowing outside--could get me to shut it off for a while and find something better to do. I'm half-grateful for 5-day rentals.
What to eat while watching: During Somewhere, I managed to fit no fewer than 10 meals between the opening credits and the final credits.
Imagine that I'm saying the next sentence in a whiny drone, as Sandra Bernhardt might. I am so over New Yorkers' inability to get over themselves. This emotion is primarily inspired by Somewhere in the City, a collection of five or six tales consciously set in Manhattan. Woody Allen's film Small Time Crooks, is also set there, of course: all of his films are. Though this one is no more stuck on NYC than any others of his, the story this time really misses the opportunity to transcend the glitzy-yet-mucky feeling of that paradoxical town.
Small Time Crooks tells the story of small-time con man, Ray, essentially the character Virgil Starkwell from Take the Money and Run grown up into a has-been criminal who is as incompetent as ever. But, as always, he has a plan. He brings in some friends who are even more unintelligent than he. Their goal is to rent a small store and tunnel from its basement into the vault of the nearby bank, rob it, and flee to Florida. They bumble from the get-go.
Tracey Ullman, playing Woody's wife, manages the front operation: a cookie shop. Wonder of wonders, her cookies are amazing and become all the rage. She is the next Starbucks. So when the bank heist fails, no hubris is experienced by the bellyaching couple. Instead, all of them go into the cookie business, including the cop who busted Woody in the act of inadvertently breaking into a haberdashery.
Act two is when Ullman decides she wants to be part of society. Their attempts to entertain are ridiculous: they are still transparently white trash although their white-trash accoutrements now cost gazillions instead of four dollars. Now the lawn flamingos are solid gold, you see.
When Ullman overhears the callous rich of New York mocking her and her husband, she vows to get cultured and hires David, played by Hugh Grant, to teach her. As a connoisseur of all trades, Grant is the perfect instructor. Except that he's only in it for the money, thinking he might steal Ullman from her boorish hubby.
Don't you love those cardboard cutouts of celebrities you see in video stores? Well, every character here is a cut-out from the ridiculously dumb accomplices to Allen himself to the ludicrously snobby high society walk-ons. Allen and Ullman are transformed by money in exactly the way you'd expect, so there's no need to have nightmares or question reality as you know it when the film ends. And the moral (love conquers all) is delivered right to your doorstep without you even having to get up from the couch.
But this is Woody Allen. Isn't there some kind of twist? Well, there is no real reason to believe that Ullman really loves Allen (or vice versa) considering the ubiquity of their mutual hostility. Only a few demi-tender reminiscences even suggest that these two might once have been in love. There's a plot twist you don't see every day. We are asked to believe that two people who hate each other, love each other.
A number of funny things happen in the movie, including one or two slapstick moments and dialogue goofs that might even make a viewer chuckle out loud, depending on his or her state of mind. The remains of Allen's incredible comic genius save this from being among the most negligible of films. As for Ullman, I have appreciated her work in the past, there is no doubt.
Having heard Sandra Bernhardt recently on Howard Stern, I felt in the mood to see something she'd been in. Somewhere tells the tales of the residents of a single tenement building. Sandra is the self-obsessed and sexually easy psychiatrist on the top floor. She meddles in everyone's business and eventually stops sleeping around long enough to find a steady beau who loves her-and is kinky.
The building also houses an unloved housewife whose affair turns sour just as her husband catches her in the act of cheating. With all this grief, she sits and weeps in a café where she is discovered by two soap opera executives and made into an overnight sensation on television. Which is funny, because that exact same thing has happened to so many friends of mine, too!
Who else lives there? A failed criminal whose heist plans always go awry. But he's no Jack the Ripper: his robbery attempt startles a pregnant secretary so badly that she goes into labor. Before fleeing the law, he helps birth her baby. He reads the headlines about him while on the lam.
Then there's a gay actor who does almost nothing.
Then there's the Chinese woman who is trying to get a green card. She starts dressing real punk and finally gets a gay man to marry her, but he escapes during the wild wedding party. Does she get her green card? I couldn't tell for sure.
There's one, maybe two, other story lines in there, too, all tossed together like a fresh salad of iceberg lettuce, celery, canned corn, beets, and some mayo. The director ties the ends together by letting a few of the characters share a conversation or minor plot point. He gets two or three links in there and considers his job done.
The acting is very consistent.
The bright spot is the cameo by Ed Koch, whose acting is, um, consistent, for the simple reason that he isn't an actor. Next to the rest of the cast, Koch's guileless performance is refreshingly, not stultifyingly, bad.
I found this in the cult section, and since it wasn't directed by Woody, you should have no trouble avoiding it.