Naked in New York: Dan Algrant’s Feature Debut, Romantic Comedy Starring Eric Stoltz and Mary-Louise Parker

Dan Algrant, a protégé of Martin Scorsese, who serves as exec-producer here, makes a promising feature debut with “Naked in New York,” an unevenly written but well acted romantic comedy, which benefits immensely from its likable cast, headed by Eric Stoltz and Mary-Louise Parker.
A quintessential New York comedy, the film is clearly inspired by Woody Allen’s 1970s (“Annie Hall”) and 1980s comedies, not only in the setting, humor, and self-absorption, but also in the voice-over narration of the young, appealing protagonist (played by Stoltz). Like Woody Allen, Jake addresses the camera directly, talking about all kinds of personal issues.
Stoltz plays Jake, a wide-eyed, red-haired neurotic, the product of a Jewish mother (Jill Clayburgh) and an Italian father, though in his worldview (and phobias) he is more Jewish than anything else.  In the first sequence, driving to visit his mom, Jake reminisces about his wacky childhood with his mom and her nutty pals, the plays he participated in as a boy, the first, unsatisfying (of course) sexual encounter with a woman, who didn’t care about him or his needs. In short, he’s the classic insecure artistic type—an aspiring playwright who’ll do anything to be produced. We see Jake in close-ups with his big eyeglasses, sitting at his typewriter and talking to us.
The main part of the narrative depicts his courtship and difficult relationship with a naïve WASPish girl named Joanne, played by the ever-likeable Mary-Louise Parker.  Jake and Joanne are not exactly–in interest, charisma, humor–Alvy Singer and Annie Hall. And so after a nice first reel, the film gets stagnant, particularly during a long, obligatory party scene at the home of Timothy Dalton.
Problem is, Algrant’s tale of romance is all surface and no depth; the level of insights is not too impressive. However, to be fair, “Naked in New York” originated as a film school project, and compared with other debuts, it’s quite promising; I’m looking forward to see what Algrant will do next.
Algrant’s story is semi-autobiographical, which may explain why Jake is so self-centered and self-absorbed. A recent college graduate, Jake is about to have his first play produced off-Broadway by Tony Curtis. Meanwhile, Joanne’s career as a photographer of poor people is taking off. “They are just so amazing,” she says of her subjects. Needless to say, her success and growing self-confidence puts a strain on their romance, which all along had been shaky.
Seeking success and finding their way to the top, the couple (Joanne more willingly than Jake) attends cocktail parties featuring such celebs as Quentin Crisp, Eric Bogosian, Ariel Dorfman, Marsha Norman and William Styron. Jake stammers in awe, expressing admiration for the glitterati, only to be brushed off by them.
Miraculously, Jake’s charm draws attention from his best friend (Ralph Macchio) and moves in with him. Moreovevr, his projected (fake) sexual bravado gets the attention of an aging but still alluring Broadway star (Kathleen Turner), who makes a pass at him. For her part, Joanne gets involved with an older, more suave gallery owner (Timothy Dalton) who claims to adore her art (which is below mediocre).
Algrant is not the first beginning filmmaker to be inspired and even imitate the genre’s great masters. The earlier films of Noah Baumbach (“Kicking and Screaming”) were also imitative of Woody Allen. However, Algrant manages to display some personal voice and distinctive sensibility, which may mature into major talent in future works, and he is particularly good with his large ensemble, both the younger and the older members.
.
Credits
Executive producer: Martin Scorsese
Written and directed by Dan Algrant
Camera: Joey Forsyte
Editor: Bill Plankow
Music: Angelo Badalamenti
Costumes: Julie Weiss
Casting Bonnie Timmermann
Fine Line Release
Running time: 89 Minutes