September 4, 2011

Queer Review: Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976)

Next Stop, Greenwhich Village
Director: Paul Mazursky
Writer: Paul Mazursky
Cast: Lenny Baker, Shelley Winters, Ellen Greene, Lois Smith, Christopher Walken, Dori Brenner, Antonio Fargas, Jeff Goldblum

For a film billed as comedy, Next Stop, Greenwhich Village is awfully depressing. Suicide, infidelity, and abortion all come together to create the thematic underpinnings of a story about a man trying to escape the reaches of his overbearing mother. Sound like a laugh to anyone else?

When aspiring actor Larry Lipinsky (Lenny Baker) moves to Greenwhich Village, it is primarily to escape the clutches of his overbearing mother Faye Lapinsky (Shelley Winters), although he soon finds out that 5 miles is nowhere near far enough for that purpose. Soon after moving, he finds himself falling into a group of outsiders that include the lothorio Robert Fulmer (Christopher Walken), the suicidal cat lady Anita Cunningham (Lois Smith), the styling gay and black Bernstein Chandler (Antonio Fargas) and Larry's girlfriend Sarah Roth (Ellen Greene). When Sarah announces to Larry that she is pregnant and that she plans on having an abortion, he is devestated but vows to continue to support her. Unbeknownst to him though, is that Robert may actually be the father of the unborn child.

The Queering
Apparently Next Stop, Greenwhich Village was well received when it was first released back in 1976. It is my unfortunate duty to report though, that Paul Mazursky's film has not aged well. The parts that were apparantly supposed to be funny back in the day, such as a scene where Larry mocks Marlon Brando's role in A Streetcar Named Desire, ring hollower than a hullo-hoop when viewed today. While I cannot imagine it was intended as such, but with all the humor stripped away Next Stop, Greenwhich Village starts to feel like an empty exercise in nihilistic expression.

That is not to say that we are dealing with a total failure in filmmaking here. Between the gritty realism and the unusually well drawn characters, I probably would have liked this a lot more if the parts that were meant to be funny actually could have made me laugh. As it is, I felt like I was watching a bunch of oddball characters revel in their oddballness. Sometimes this can work, but more often not, it results in a picture that feels gratingly gratuitous and self indulgent.

Granted, a few isolated scenes do work, such as those featuring a young Jeff Goldblum playing a character who wants to act but is scorned by the movie making establishment at every turn. I also chuckled at a few of the scenes where Larry finds himself having nightmares about the iron gripped hold his mother has on his life. Seriously, if I had been Larry I would have skipped Greenwhich village and moved to Los Angeles the first chance I got.

Another one for the plus column is the fact that Bernstein Chandler is an early sensitive portrayal of a gay black man who is neither self loathing nor ends up dead by the end. Although admittedly, Chandler does come off as a sassy black stereotype, I am willing to forgive such a lapse due to the time period and how few and far between queer themed movies were.

In the long run though, Next Stop, Greenwhich Village manages to do too few things right in order for it to come across as anything other than an occasionally interesting, albeit rather dated cinematic relic.

If you hear a conducter saying Next Stop, Greewhich Village be sure to keep on going. This is one only for those with an interest in the history of portrayals of queer characters.

The Rating

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