The day WWII ends, Jimmy (Robert De Niro), a selfish and smooth-talking musician, meets Francine (Liza Minnelli), a lounge singer. From that moment on, their relationship grows into love as they struggle with their careers and aim for the top.
I remember seeing this movie among Martin Scorsese’s filmography as a musical, and I was kind of curious as to what that was like. Going in however I basically had no idea what to expect, except that Robert De Niro was in it and at some point the song New York, New York would feature. Let’s just say that the movie didn’t work out so great.
New York, New York is really long at around 2 hours and 40 minutes long and that’s unnecessarily long. I get that Scorsese movies are often lengthy, but this was overkill. There are parts that had my attention but then it drags in others. There was a lot of improvisation with the dialogue, especially in the scenes between the two leads. While at times it was good, in others it became incredibly messy and unfocussed. There is an overt issue with the movie, in that I get the impression that parts of New York, New York is a deconstruction of these types of movies. While it’s at least good to know that this is deliberate, it just doesn’t fit in with the rest of the movie, especially how much of it seems like a full on tribute to these types of movies. Credit where credit is due, the ending is actually pretty effective and worked very well for the movie. Side note but it is weird how much La La Land seemed to have taken from this movie.
Between the two leads, Liza Minnelli stands out the most and she was really good here, especially in the scenes where she sings and performs. This movie actually introduced me to Minnelli as I hadn’t seen her in anything before, and that’s actually one of the biggest positives I got from watching New York, New York. Now for Robert De Niro and his character… I should just preface this saying that he successfully and completely embodies the character as it was written. The problem is that it just so happens to be one of the most unlikable lead characters I’ve seen in a while. I get that it was on purpose but they succeeded a little too well. From the very beginning you get that vibe from him, and unfortunately he doesn’t improve over the course of the movie. I’m not kidding when I say that his character of Jimmy is more hateable than De Niro’s other characters from Scorsese movies, Travis Bickle, Jake LaMotta, Rupert Pupkin, Max Cady, etc. It’s worse when he’s paired with Minnelli’s character. Again, thankfully much of the way that it’s handled does seem very deliberate, so the toxic relationship between the two isn’t incredibly misguided or anything, it’s on purpose. I guess you’ve seen plenty of relationships where the couple are polar opposites of each other, yet they somehow work as a couple and you can buy that. But here you just have no idea why she would be attracted to him, in their first scenes she’s just as annoyed at him as we are and over time they somehow end up being together. In the scenes they share together when they’re not performing, you just want her to get away from him. I’ve talked a lot about this character in this review but he’s very much a major annoyance. Still, I guess that’s partially a testament to De Niro’s performance here, he’s fantastically convincing in the role, in fact he was probably too good. There’s not much to say about the rest of the cast but they play their parts okay enough.
You can see Martin Scorsese’s direction in the sense of how well it’s all handled and looks, however it does seem like much of his style is heavily inspired by other similar films in the genre. There’s actually not much to say about his direction here, it’s as good as musical from the 70s should be. As you can expect, when the music sections are very good, unfortunately they’re not as prominent as you’d think or hope for. However there is a pretty prominent music section towards the last act with Liza Minnelli, so it’s worth sticking around for that. When the movie embraces the musical aspects of the movie, it actually really shines.
New York, New York is very clearly not one of Scorsese’s best. Although I do admire what he was going for, overall I’m just going to remember it as an ambitious experiment that just didn’t work out that well. Despite some good acting, direction and music, the deconstructional take on musicals just didn’t work tonally, it’s way too long, and one of the lead characters ruins much of the movie. It’s not a must see, along with Who’s that Knocking at My Door and Boxcar Bertha, I file this under ‘watch only if you’re a Martin Scorsese completionist’. You really aren’t missing much if you don’t see this.