Saturday, February 20, 2010

Movie with Abe: The Last New Yorker

The Last New Yorker
Directed by Harvey Wang
Released February 19, 2010

Dominic Chianese has certainly earned his reputation as a real New Yorker. He spent seven years battling with his onscreen nephew James Gandolfini for control of the New Jersey mob, and was one of the only people who could actually intimidate the burly Tony Soprano. In the new film from director Harvey Wang, the septuagenarian struts around New York City as if he owns the place. His character, Lenny Sugarman, hasn’t even left the city since he was ten years old, and he is dead set on staying there until his dying day.

“The Last New Yorker” is positively reminiscent of other recent “last hurrah” films like “Starting Out in the Evening” and “Venus” where a wise, stubborn old man, portrayed by a veteran cinema actor, refuses to be told how to live out the last years of his life. In Lenny’s case, he has not done much with his life, and his mishandling of the market has led to the unfortunate depletion of his savings. His stock broker nephew wants to give him an allowance, which he outright rejects, and his lifelong best friend Ruben wants him to leave the city and move with him to Alabama. Lenny can’t seem to find anyone who sees things from his point of view

He is utterly captivated, however, when he spots the woman of his dreams, and he decides to do anything he can to get the opportunity to know her better. In preparation for his first date with her, he purchases a fancy new suit and new shoes, because deeply ingrained in his nature is an appreciation of the long-lost art of formality. What ensues is an often pleasantly awkward and altogether entertaining courtship where the chivalrous and well-mannered Lenny sets out to convince Mimi that she is the woman for him, and that he wants to love her just as much as he loves his city.

There is something truly wonderful about a man who has only lived in one place all his life and sees no reason to leave. It’s not as if Lenny spends his days sitting in his small apartment or keeping to himself. He meets Ruben every morning for breakfast at the same restaurant, a tradition they have upheld for nearly two decades. He puts on a suit in the morning without the need for a special occasion, walks from corner to corner with delight, purchases his newspaper from a familiar street stand, and boards buses frequently and with ease. This is a man who knows his city.

Lenny is a remnant of an older society where people got dressed up on a daily basis and took their hats off when they spoke to a lady. Though the world around him may have changed, Lenny certainly has not. This character might as well be real, and a survey of lifelong New Yorkers in their seventies or eighties would surely yield personalities just like these. “The Last New Yorker” is a tender film that showcases meaningful performances and a whimsical appreciation of old age and forgotten traditions.


Please note: a version of this review was originally published in the Washington Square News.

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