Probably the greatest flaw of this generally enjoyable attempt to revive the omnibus film, once a staple of the auteur-heavy French New Wave, is that little unifies its three segments other than a common location. Had Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, and Francis Ford Coppola gotten together to collaborate in, say, 1974, chances are they could have put into focus the new generation of American filmmakers emerging at the time, however different their approaches. But by 1989, filmgoers were already well familiar with each director; consequently, New York Stories feels more like an excuse to dabble in short-form filmmaking than any sort of statement. Of course there's nothing wrong with that, as the film proves. Scorsese's Life Lessons allows him to explore a story too claustrophobic and tightly focused to warrant a feature-length treatment, but it makes for a haunting portrait of a doomed relationship memorably set against the booming '80s' New York art scene. Sandwiching the weakest bit in the middle, the cleverest aspect of Coppola's inconsequential kid's-eye-view of New York Life Without Zoe is the pun in its title. (Coppola's legendary, failed production company was named American Zoetrope.) Allen's film, Oedipus Wrecks, not only has a better pun, but reveals itself as one of Allen's most outright funny efforts in years, feeling like a decade of suppressed mother jokes unleashed all at once and allowing the worthwhile, if never quite overwhelming, film to end with a bang.
by Keith Phipps review