Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Paul Mazursky's autobiographical ode to New York's bohemian scene in the early 1950s is a funny adventure covering the year or so between "Larry Lapinski's" decision to move to Greenwich Village from his Brooklyn family home, to his migration west to play in a "major motion picture." 1 The film turned out to be Blackboard Jungle, and as we all know, about fifteen years down the road Mazursky gained far more fame as a director. Mazursky's bright script provides witty and affectionate roles for a number of amusing young actors. Shelley Winters is more captivating than ever as a maniacally possessive Brooklyn mother.
Immediately after graduating from college, Larry Lipinski (Lenny Baker) tears himself from the grasping fingers of his overly-emotional mother Fay (Shelley Winters), slaps on a beret and joins the young artistic hopefuls struggling (or lingering) in Greenwich Village. In no time at all he's part of an aimless but convivial clique. Connie (Dori Brenner) is concerned for Anita (Lois Smith), who is turning into a cat lady and continually threatens suicide. Robert (Christopher Walken) is a womanizer with a manufactured public face. Bernstein (Antonio Fargas) is gay and hides his insecurity behind an elaborate faked personal back story. Larry also has a lover, free spirited Sarah (Ellen Greene of Little Shop of Horrors) who refuses to commit to him because she's looking for herself. Larry takes a job in a Deli (Owner: Lou Jacobi) and agonizes through acting classes wondering when his innate genius is going to assert itself. He does feel more secure at auditions than the uptight "serious actor" Clyde Baxter (Jeff Goldblum). Larry's biggest problem is his mother, who sees nothing wrong with dropping in unannounced at inappropriate times, like when Larry and Sarah are trying to make love.
Next Stop, Greenwich Village is the story of 50's New York in a nutshell, with rent parties, acting classes, roach-filled unfurnished apartments, and plenty of odd characters hanging around in bars. Starving artists solicit for abortionists. A screwy old guy hawking poetry tells his customers that "In the winter I'm a Buddhist, in the summer I'm a nudist." Larry's boss at the health food store basically practices medicine without a license, prescribing his diet vegetable drinks as a cure-all. Larry's screwy collection of friends are in various states of self-delusion and depression, but we know there's a light at the end of the tunnel for most of them.
Mazursky affectionately lampoons his origins and his ambitions; we aren't aware of any personal demons being exorcised. He's crazy about his girlfriend Sarah but can't hold her. Her flighty nature makes it easy for him to concentrate on his own career fantasies. His Marlon Brando imitations and Oscar acceptance speeches are all too honest, and would be just as touching if we knew that the kid squeaking them out didn't go on to a successful career. Larry's daydreams are full of acting disasters, but when it comes time to pitch the part of a young punk for a Hollywood picture, he knows exactly what the casting director wants to see.
Shelley Winters is delightful as Fay, the screamer of a mother incapable of understanding why Larry would choose to become a bum living in a rat-hole of an apartment. She brings him bags of food including a chicken (!) to cook and refuses to listen to reason, or to anything for that matter. Larry and Sarah try to be honest about their romance, but Fay becomes so hysterical that they're forced to reassure her with less disturbing lies. Fay's patient husband (Mike Kellin), cannot get her to realize that Larry is an independent grown man. Clueless or not, Fay is also the life of the party, something that disturbs Larry - he imagines her acting and dancing up a storm, succeeding naturally where he failed.
Ellen Greene shows a wonderful spirit and Lenny Baker great promise. Sadly, he'd die of cancer in only a few years. Christopher Walken is impressive as an emotionally distant pal, and the late Dori Brenner shows a bright personality with her thoughtful, concerned character Connie. Lois Smith (Five Easy Pieces) makes the suicide-prone Anita a complex entity with just a few minutes on screen. The late Vincent Schiavelli is part of a party crowd, and if you look quick you'll catch Bill Murray in a bar, wearing a moustache. He gets one quick line.
Fox's DVD of Next Stop, Greenwich Village follows up nicely on their disc of Mazursky's previous Harry and Tonto. The enhanced transfer is clean and bright and better than the theatrical prints Savant saw, which tended to be greenish. The Bill Conti soundtrack is sprinkled with expressive Dave Brubeck jazz tracks. As with Sony's Bob & Ted & Carol & Alice, Next Stop, Greenwich Village is blessed by a Mazursky commentary, with additional surprise comments from actress Ellen Greene. The first thing the pleasant-sounding Mazursky does is admit that this is his favorite film because, naturally, "It's all about me!"
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Next Stop, Greenwich Village rates:
Supplements: Commentary with director Mazursky and Ellen Greene
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: January 8, 2006
1. So, what happened to Mazursky's side trip to make Stanley Kubrick's oddball first-feature Fear and Desire?
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson