If I were to draw inspiration from Fran Lebowitz, it would be my ability to personalize everything through grievances. Contrary to popular belief, being a critic isn’t to be a professional complainer. If I could find that line of work, I’d be thrilled to take it. Upon watching Martin Scorsese’s second venture into Netflix’s territory, “Pretend It’s a City” feels like an artifact from the past before the times of COVID. Attitudes regarding the crowded New York City subway to a range of other categories involving public activity activities is something I wish I could protest against once more. Watching Mr. Scorsese sitting in a beautifully lit restaurant casually speaking to Ms. Lebowitz made me yearn for a pastime I never thought I’d miss. Like watching recolored footage with an adjusted frame rate from 100 years ago, “Pretend It’s a City” is a mostly entertaining piece about the life of being a New Yorker that couldn’t have come out at a more inopportune time.
Being the fool I am, I thought Scorsese’s documentary was going to be a standard 1.5 hour-2 hour documentary like his previous 85-minute film on Fran Lebowitz “Public Speaking.” Little did I know it was a 7 part minisode documentary. I stress the word minisode as each episode length is about 30 minutes in length instead of one hour, which would have been excruciating to sit through in one go for the audience. As alluring as Ms. Lebowitz is with the spoken word, I felt like I was listening to an older version of myself for longer than I cared to.
A far more effective means of adapting this documentary could have been through a series of YouTube shorts, maybe 5 minutes or less in length. You could call it, “Fran Complains.” For 1 episode, for instance, “Fran complains about taking out her laundry.” It’s fair to say that my idea is perhaps far from Mr. Scorsese’s vision. I wonder who Scorsese is trying to reach with this film. Is it for people involved in the arts that willingly live a life of poverty due to the love for their field? Is it for aspiring writers? The answer to these questions is yes, yet the subject doesn’t move beyond its initial concept to draw me any closer.
Even as a Martin Scorsese fanatic, I felt “Pretend It’s a City” is catered exclusively towards Marty himself. Much like a comedian performing in front of an empty audience via Zoom during a pandemic, Scorsese serves as Lebowitz’s laugh track. During public events featured in the film, the audience provides the laughter to Lebowitz’s cynical humor. Still, for most of the picture, it’s Lebowitz causing Martin Scorsese to channel Jimmy Fallon levels of fabricated amusement, making me cringe from time to time throughout the movie.
The saving grace to this unnecessarily long documentary padded with multiple 30-minute increments to maintain the audience’s attention span is Ms. Lebowitz’s various analyses. The topics of sporting events being overrated, being contempt with an artist’s lifestyle, the societal importance of money, and the absurdity in finding reflection from a fictional character all have their merits of interest enough to hold my attention on certain occasions. The material overall may not warrant enthusiasm for the audience. The finale is entirely about Fran Lebowitz’s interest in books. As much as I enjoy reading, hearing someone talk about reading isn’t that fascinating. Not unless I’m sharing the same book.
Who this documentary appeals to might be an incredible niche audience. Considering I’m a videographer and writer living in an apartment in the middle of a city in his mid-30s, I’d be part of the small target demographic for “PIAC.” I wasn’t allured, however. I appreciated its charm. The carefree style Mr. Scorsese places with the subject is something within his comfort zone of New York put on to screen that isn’t cinematic laziness that most filmmakers fall into, which is what has kept Mr. Scorsese’s work far more vibrant than his colleagues. Still, there isn’t much to this flick other than a mild giggle to be had or a nod in agreement to Ms. Lebowitz’s sporadic ramblings. When the doc reached its finale, I didn’t know if Scorsese ran into a deadline was forcing to release a product. It just ends. Not every film has to carry incredible importance, except they don’t have to be aimless either. Nothing leads to anything other than watching your eccentric aunt rant for 3.5 hours. It’s like Martin Scorsese is in on a joke that the rest of us are tired of hearing.