Sidewalks of New York (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Although the guy has written and directed five of his own films, you probably don't know much about Edward Burns the filmmaker. I'll bet you know his face. He was De Niro's costar in 15 Minutes, he had a part in Saving Private Ryan, and is the co-star of the blond Angelina Jolie in "Life, or Something Like It", taking over a role turned down by Edward Norton. You probably think of him as an actor because very few people have seen his own films.

But they are good, even if they are largely unknown. I think I'd describe him as a tall, blue collar, Gentile version of Woody Allen.

  • Like Allen, he is interested in the social and romantic interactions of people in New York City, and he himself was born in the outer boroughs to a working class ethnic family. His dad is an Irish NYPD cop - how much more New York can ya be? Like Allen, his characters are obsessive, egocentric, more than a little whiny, and are constantly analyzing themselves to death.
  • There are plenty of differences. Allen may come from a working class family, but he thinks like a white collar Manhattanite. Burns is a very bright and thoughtful guy with a degree in literature, and is well aware of Manhattan's urban professionals, but he is probably more interested in the lives of the real people who commute from Jersey and the outer boroughs - the people who make New York work. Waitresses, doormen, cabbies, cops, blue collar workers of all types. Woody is gentle and affectionate when he mocks the neurotic and obsessive Manhattanites, but you know Burns is making a "rotten banana face" when he thinks about them. Unfortunately, Burns is not as funny as Woody (who is?) and when he is funny, his humor is not as brilliant or as obviously aloof. While you can always tell that Woody is just being clever, sometimes Burns really digs in with some nasty claws. The Stanley Tucci character in "Sidewalks", a self-rationalizing sexual predator, is a truly detestable character.

Roger Ebert wrote what I thought was an extremely incisive article, in which he described "Sidewalks" as follows:

The story of lovers, would-be lovers, former lovers and adulterers from each of the city's boroughs, who seem totally preoccupied with themselves. This is as it should be. When you're in love, you think of no one but yourself. Even your thoughts of your loved one are about your love, because the idealized other person exists in your imagination. ... The movie lives at the intersection between Woody Allen and "Sex and the City." ... Ed Burns' New Yorkers have grown up in a society of psycho-babble, and carry around half-digested concepts of guilt, redemption and finding your karma. ..."Sidewalks of New York" finds the right note, of seeking optimism among the shoals of hope. It's spiced by a rotter (Stanley Tucci) whose self-justifications are ingenious. And by a cynic (Dennis Farina) whose advice is sometimes pretty good.

The film develops much of its irony by having the characters talk to the camera in a sort of documentary within the film. The things they say to the imaginary interviewer and the clichés they spout are sharply contrasted to their real actions.

This device accomplished what he wanted it to, I guess, but it was extraordinarily artificial, and the tone of voice of too many of the characters was too much indebted to Woody. (Especially Stanley Tucci and Heather Graham, who seemed to be impersonating Woody and Diane Keaton)


A side note. It is (too) obvious that some of the dialogue in the film was improvised. I don't know how much of Dennis Farina's was ad-libbed, but if it was improvisation, that is one very funny man. His portrayal of a shallow Casanova was completely hilarious, the only really big laughs in the film.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Commentary by director Edward Burns

  • Anatomy of a Scene: Sidewalks of New York - Making Of Documentary

  • Widescreen anamorphic format, 1.85:1

The five films Burns has written and directed:
  1. (7.90) - Ash Wednesday (2001)
  2. (6.95) - Sidewalks of New York (2001)
  3. (6.60) - Brothers McMullen, The (1995)
  4. (6.11) - She's the One (1996)
  5. (5.56) - No Looking Back (1998)

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars, or slightly less. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 3/4, 3/5

  • General UK consensus: two and a half stars. Daily Mail 6/10, Independent 6/10, The Guardian 8/10, The Observer 7/10, The Times 2/10, Evening Standard 7/10, The Sun  7/10, Express 6/10, BBC 3/5

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 7.0/10, Guardian voters score it 8.5/10
  • with their dollars: Arthouse levels. It grossed only $2 million, never reaching more than 224 screens.


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Talky, self-examination movies are not everyone's cup of tea, but this is quite a good one.

Return to the Movie House home page