March 22, 2009

Written by Charles A. Coulombe

According to IMDB, actor Frank Whaley plays “bit parts in big movies and successful star vehicles (Pulp Fiction (1994), JFK (1991), Broken Arrow (1996), The Freshman (1990), Born on the Fourth of July (1989) and Red Dragon (2002)), and leads in mostly bad movies (Career Opportunities (1991), Cold Dog Soup (1990), and The Jimmy Show (2001)).” The implication here is that he is incapable of carrying a movie on his own. Whether or not that is true, New York City Serenade certainly shows he has similar difficulties as a writer-director (although his two earlier efforts, Joe the King and The Jimmy Show have received some favorable commentary).

Where to begin with this film? Dull and depressing? Predictable and trite? Unsympathetic and uninteresting characters? All too true. This 2007 effort introduces us to Owen (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), an aspiring film maker with a short piece that has just been accepted for showing at an obscure film festival where Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride’s “that’s…inconceivable!” man) is to receive a lifetime achievement award. While he has a wonderful fiancée, Lynn, (Jamie-Lynn DiScala), Owen also comes equipped with a set of loser friends: drunk, drummer, and deadbeat dad Actor (Chris Klein); seeming Asperger’s victim Russ (Ben Schwartz); terminal neurotic Terry (Alexander Chaplin); and just-lost-his-father druggie Matt (Jeff Skowron). The first three bring Owen to a frat party where he beds Rachel (Diane Gettinger), who — don’t be shocked! — turns out to be a friend-of-a-friend of Lynn, who finds out about the sordid tryst and breaks the engagement. Coming on the heels of a truly depressing orthodox Jewish funeral, Owen is really down for the emotional count.

As a result of the break up, Actor goes along to the festival, and wreaks his usual havoc in Owen’s life. But this time, our hapless protagonist insists that things will be different, and flies to L.A. to take up an offer of employment. Decisions Must Be Made. Life Lessons Are Learned. And so on.

From one angle, this is a film that deals with perennial questions of human life. Fidelity to loved ones. Loyalty to friends. Responsibility being an anchor. Selfishness bringing ruin. From another, it is rather a pain to watch, and no really satisfying or unpredictable conclusion results. One hopes Mr. Whaley will do better his next time out.


Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Frank Whaley and Actors Ben Schwartz, Alexander Chaplin, and Heather Bucha

Behind the scenes of NEW YORK CITY SERENADE


If this is the only DVD in the house, go ahead and watch it. But be ready to fast forward.

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