New York Stories

Brooding city dwellers populate a muddled post–9-11 ensemble piece

Having established his genius for stoner repartee ( Dude, Where's My Car?; Harold & Kumar), Danny Leiner aims for something more sophisticated with this sepia-hued mope- fest, in which a cross-section of 10 New Yorkers— a few of whom briefly share an elevator in a Magnolia-style linkage—search for Deep Meaning in their lives. It's the kind of movie where the dialogue is rife with theatricality (Edie Falco's speech on penguins is a bigger non sequitur than anything in Dude), and closure is confirmed when a young girl belts a feel-good karaoke tune. Worse yet, the film, set in September 2002, employs 9-11 as a thematic crutch, positing the attacks as little more than a backdrop for its characters' other, infinitely less significant woes. These include the career angst of an aspiring celebrity baker (Maggie Gyllenhaal), the staggering self-pity of the parents of a problem child (Judy Greer and Tom McCarthy), the bottled resentment of an immigrant security guard (Sharat Saxena), and the romantic regrets of an aging Brighton Beach resident (Olympia Dukakis). Ironically, Leiner's two monuments to pothead delirium seem vastly more coherent than this hazy attempt to mine the zeitgeist, a film every bit as pointed as its nounless title.

 
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