I’ve been going to visit New York City for years, since my friend Amy moved there (or in the vicinity) ages ago. And I like the city. It can be fun. Living near it myself, now, there’s still a lot I enjoy. Last weekend, we saw Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan in Waiting for Godot. It was, in a word, thrilling — just to be there, just to be able to be there. Exciting things happen in New York, and living close by means I can see them, when I want to.
Having said that,it’s a little silly the way Hollywood likes to treat NYC, at least when it comes to lighter fare. All too often the city is depicted as some kind of jolly Mary Poppins-esque wonderland. In reality, the subways are not well-lit and charming. The streets are not that clean. Sometimes there’s a smell. Well, all the time. There’s always construction, there’s always traffic, and the sun sets in mid-afternoon. I mean, sure, sometimes they show us the grittier side. Taxi Driver is impeccably harsh, for example. Big shows Tom Hanks in that scary motel room. I’d also give good credit to Midnight Cowboy, Fame, and even Tootsie. But then there’s the brighter side of the street, apparently.
In When Harry Met Sally, everyone’s apartment is the size of the Met; it’s often adorably fall or the holidays, and the worst that can be said is that buying a Christmas tree for yourself is a fate worse than death. In The Object of My Affection, a lovely Brooklyn brownstone is “slumming it”, and showing that you want to “escape the Hamptons” is proof you still have a soul. Serendipity started a run on not just old copies of Love in the Time of Cholera but also the restaurant from which the movie got its name, as long as you don’t dwell on how many times they’ve been closed down for rat infestations. I can excuse a movie like The Devil Wears Prada because it takes place entirely in the world of fashionistas, but all the other romcoms set in the Big Apple have the same, nauseating… sameness. 27 Dresses presents us with a city lacking any ethnicity whatsoever (except for one young boy, and they make sure you know it) and in 13 Going on 30, the sun always shines and there’s a photo shoot waiting to happen anywhere. Little Black Book, Maid in Manhattan, Made of Honor, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Sweet Home Alabama, Stepmom, and on and on. Everyone has an exciting job. Everyone has an unrealistically huge apartment. And the city is so damn picturesque you can barely resist packing up your worldly belongings and moving there immediately. The crowning achievement of Hollywood’s New York has got to be You’ve Got Mail, a movie that has charming baked right in with Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in the lead roles. Here, New York is one giant street fair, filled with lovely (though possibly soon to be out of business) shops, literary parties, and friends singing Austrian folk songs together at Christmas.
There are a lot of great movies set in New York City. This list has some great examples to offer, culminating in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Another personal favorite of mine is The Royal Tenenbaums, which is set in an odd, strangely archaic present-day New York that remains, weirdly enough, entirely recognizable. And it must be confessed that I enjoy the fluffier offerings on their own merit, so to speak. But if you’ve never been to the city before and those are your entire frame of reference, just be warned that you won’t find the subway to be nearly as quaint as you’ve been led to expect.