Pity the talky early ’90s indie movie in the DVD era. Too recent to be considered vintage but not new enough to have much urgency, movies like Party Girl (1995) and Naked in New York (1993) find little home entertainment love. Instead, they are quietly released in bare-bones packages that mimic their VHS editions, right down to a full-screen transfer.
As much as these semi-secret releases might make you want to champion the films themselves, Naked in New York is no classic waiting to be discovered. It’s not even Party Girl. It’s more like a whirlwind tour of Woody Allen country: crazy parents, neurotic creative types, and imperfect young love all overlap as Jake (Eric Stoltz), a struggling playwright, chronicles his adventures in New York and Boston, and his romance with photographer Joanne (Mary-Louise Parker).
Parker is charming as Joanne, who is less confident than Jake but apparently better at her chosen art. A sincere, smart rom-com girl, she’s also undermined by the screenplay’s satire of the New York theater world, which relegates her to the sidelines of her own relationship movie. (Parker would appear in an actual Woody Allen theater farce, Bullets Over Broadway, in the next year; maybe this imitation was her unofficial audition.)
Riffing on Woody Allen isn’t necessarily a bad idea (see David Mandel’s Miami Rhapsody ), but Naked in New York doesn’t work as tribute and it’s not original enough for deconstruction. Poor Stoltz is “doing” Woody here almost as strenuously as actors like John Cusack (the aforementioned Bullets), Kenneth Branagh (Celebrity, 1998), and Jason Biggs (Anything Else, 2003) have for Allen’s own films over the years, but injecting Allen’s “voice” into this material does it no favors; these are Allen-style situations more than Allen-style jokes. This suggests a movie inspired less by life and more by other movies-by types rather than a specific voice. The Allen model for this story (young neurotics balancing their lives and their art) is so familiar that even an a passable imitation needs to say something — about its characters, the city, theater — to be heard above the din of actual Woody movies.
Naked in New York tries to distinguish itself through flights of fancy — Jake sees a traveling circus at a rest-stop and imagines a monkey giving him romantic counsel — but these passages are too brief, as if director Daniel Algrant can’t commit. And these surreal asides are not helped by the film’s haphazard editing, with jarring transitions between sequences, locations (the frequent New York/Boston trips are bizarre for a movie with “New York” in its title), and fantasies. Editor Bill Pankow cut together some of Brian DePalma’s virtuoso work, but doesn’t find the right rhythm for a supposed romantic comedy. The film moves quickly during courtship and then slows right down as the central relationship falters.
And so we are left with a modest compendium of clever moments and wistful observations. There is a moment toward the end when Jake, who has been narrating the film while driving alone down a highway, looks out his car window and imagines the major figures from his life (and the movie): in other cars, manning tollbooths, pulled over on the side of the road. It’s a memorable image, on the road to Naked in New York‘s obscurity; it’s the one sustained moment of the film that does rise above the din.