An affectless, piglet-pale Jake Briggs (Eric Stoltz) talks to the camera as he drives in the opening scene of Naked in New York. On the road from Boston to New York, he ers and ums through a speech about how he doesn’t understand much about life or love or relationships or what makes somebody a grown-up, etc., but here he is, a sort of grown-up and a sort of playwright who sort of loves his girlfriend, he guesses, maybe, er, um.
Had I been a passenger I would have turned the radio up real loud, because the truth is, most people’s artistic struggles are not interesting to anyone except the struggling artist-and, perhaps (for a while, anyway), the struggling artist’s extravagantly supportive significant other. Karmic fallout from the film-school and creative-writing workshop mantra to write what you know may involve a lot of small, er, um, stories at the start of a career, but that doesn’t mean we the audience have to murmur appreciatively; we can also go load up on popcorn until the struggling artist has something interesting to say.
All of this brings me to Naked in New York, since this wan story about a young man starting out as a playwright is the first feature film directed by Dan Algrant, who also wrote the screenplay with John Warren. The director is, I assume, not unlike Jake Briggs, since Algrant is also just starting out in the artist business. The movie is about Jake’s kooky childhood, his relationship with his girlfriend, the production of his (lousy) first Off Broadway play, and his ambivalence toward the above. There is, however, one crucial distinction between Algrant and the average struggling artist: he is a protege of Martin Scorsese, who is executive producer on this film. As a result, Naked in New York is adorned with a snazzy display of star power: Jill Clayburgh as the mom, Mary-Louise Parker as the girlfriend, Ralph Macchio as the best friend, Tony Curtis as the producer, Kathleen Turner as the soap star, Whoopi Goldberg as a talking tragedy mask. Hell, even writer William Styron makes an appearance, and you know how picky he is about his cameo work. The cast makes the movie interesting in a party-trick way-hey, isn’t that Timothy Dalton? But I don’t think this cavalcade of talent serves the young filmmaker well. Algrant’s commercial debut is a fair, small thing that should have gotten minimal attention so he could move on and, like any good artist, do something more interesting next time.