Judge Brett Cullum implores you to not fear the buttocks of the man from Mask.
Naked in New York is one of those films you see one of two ways. Either it's a nice little independent discovery, or it's forgettable claptrap you watch once and forget quickly. If you are of a certain age it will be more poignant to you than to the rest of the population. It's the story of a struggling playwright named Jake (Eric Stolz, Mask, Pulp Fiction) who is trying to juggle his first attempts at success and a long-distance relationship with his girlfriend Joanne (Mary-Louise Parker, Angels in America). Unfortunately, its release appears to be as naked and bare-bones as DVDs come these days, and that is the real shame.
Facts of the Case
Naked in New York bears the impressive supertitle of "Martin Scorsese presents"—and that is a little misleading. It's certainly not a picture Scorsese would make, and I'm not sure why he leant his name to the movie (he is the executive producer). Kinda reminds me of all those "Wes Craven presents" titles, although this is nowhere near as bad. The film was released in 1993, and boy howdy can you tell that. Naked in New York has "grunge era angst" writ large over every single scene.
The movie begins with Jake speaking to the audience from his car. We flash back through his tumultuous childhood, then watch him work through school and deal with life after his degree. He's an aspiring playwright who seems to be stuck on writing about his unorthodox mother (Jill Clayburgh, It's My Turn). Seems this relationship with his mom also impacts his rather strange co-dependent bond with live-in girlfriend Joanne. They are both struggling artists, but she seems to be finding her way in the art world thanks mainly to her lecherous boss, played by Timothy Dalton (The Living Daylights, Flash Gordon). Jake is helped by his actor best friend Chris (Ralph Macchio, The Karate Kid), who is shopping his play to a big-wig producer in New York (Tony Curtis, Some Like it Hot).
The play is optioned, and Jake goes to the Big Apple to help with the production, leaving Joanne behind. To make matters worse, the producer has cast a soap diva as the lead (Kathleen Turner, Body Heat), and she has designs on both Jake and the show. Can Jake save his show, his relationship with Joanne, and his soul all at once? And will he ever stop narrating his own life?
Eric Stolz is a vegetarian who likes to collect antique guns. He has an extensive background in both film and theatre. We first saw him as a stoner in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Part of your enjoyment of Naked in New York will be determined by how you feel about this redheaded actor who seems to pop up in hip independent films with alarming regularity. Do you love him? If you do, I have great news. You get to see Mr. Stolz naked from every angle in this film. This film confirms that he does not dye his hair, and has a pretty nice backside. You also have to listen to him talk incessantly for an hour and a half. You should keep your eyes open (despite the prospect of Stolz naked) for a parade of stars making cameos. Whoopi Goldberg (The Color Purple), Calista Flockhart (Ally McBeal), Griffin Dunne (After Hours), Luis Guzman (Boogie Nights), and Chris Noth (Sex and the City) all appear in "blink and you miss them" cameos. The New York scenes are peppered with glitterati from Gotham, including Eric Bogosian (actor), Quentin Crisp (gay icon), The Lady Miss Kier (from DeeLite), Marsha Norman (playwright), William Styron (author), David Drake (gay icon), and Joey Aria (another gay icon). The film's wall-to-wall cameos give it both a real sense of the celebrity world into which Jake is thrust and a "Where's Waldo?" quality for people to spot their favorites.
The plot itself is the usual "mid-twenties" identity crisis of "Who am I?" and "What do I mean to the world?" It's done well enough to be entertaining, and I certainly didn't mind spending an hour and a half with Jake as he obsessed over his mommy, his girl, and his play. I was really struck by how sexy Kathleen Turner is in the movie. She literally steals every scene she is in—and check out the gams on the gal as she traps Jake in a bathroom at a party. There's a very nice gay subplot that is handled deftly and with incredible grace. Ralph Macchio delivers a painfully well-done scene where he gets drunk enough to accidentally out himself to Jake. Tony Curtis's turn as the producer is great fun, as is Timothy Dalton's contribution as the aforementioned mentor of Joanne. The cast really makes this an enjoyable little film. The script feels autobiographical, and it was directed by one its co-writers (Dan Algrant, who went on to direct one third-season episode of Sex and the City). Also of note is that the score is by David Lynch's favorite composer Angelo Badalamenti (Twin Peaks and almost every Lynch film).
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's a likeable enough film, but it certainly does not stand out as much more than an interesting "coming of age in the Nineties" story. I never found myself worrying about Jake too much (other than questioning where his money came from). He seemed like he would be fine, and I knew he and Joanne would find a way to make things work someway, somehow. The real issue I have is with the DVD release itself. It's presented full screen, in stereo, and with no extras. Is Eric Stolz to busy to do a freaking commentary to explain why he wanted to stand naked on rocks and a beach? Wouldn't the director be able to explain why they made this film, and how they got all these stars? How about Ralph Macchio to tell us why he chose the gay character? Nope. You get nothing. Oh wait! There are trailers for 13 Going on 30, My Best Friend's Wedding, and America's Sweethearts. And is the transfer even good? Digital artifacts pop up constantly, and all that era plaid shimmers and pops right off the screen (whoops!).
Fine enough for a quiet evening when you feel like snuggling up with Eric Stolz and his pasty white firm buttocks—but somebody should bitchslap Columbia Tristar for giving the whole affair a bare-bones treatment and a transfer worthy of VHS. All kidding aside, it's a nice enough independent film that deserved a little better treatment.
Despite the indecent exposure of Eric Stolz, Naked in New York is free to go on quietly surprising people who might give it a rental. Columbia Tristar is found guilty of doing nothing more than transferring a film with VHS qualities. Wake up! The '90s are over.
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