Those of us who are also enamored with its majestic skyline, expansive diversity, frenetic pace, close-quartered anonymity, explosive economy, buoyant culture, vibrant nightlife, aggressive traffic, and constant cacophony will enjoy the multi-faceted urban scenery.
This is one of those “ensemble” movies that employs many well-known actors, providing us with a long procession of “slice of life” vignettes, sometimes revisiting, occasionally interacting, but not really intended to come together neatly at the end. Really, it’s just people being people. A retailer and a wholesaler bargaining about a ring; a man and woman meeting outside a restaurant, smoking, and striking up a conversation that may or may not lead to further encounter; an old artist asks a young woman minding a store to model for him, and she, at once repulsed and flattered, struggles between her ambition and her inhibition; two guys hop in the same cab at the same time and both try to badger the driver into going their way first, even demanding which route to take, until the driver, after first offering a solution that both reject, summarily orders them both out of his cab. A teenage boy, his girlfriend just having ditched him, reluctantly accepts a blind date for the prom and is flabbergasted when she answers the door in a wheelchair.
Yes, in “The City That Never Sleeps” there are millions of stories. This film tries to tell a few of them, seemingly randomly, and to no apparent purpose, other than just a window into “a day in the life” for each.
The difficulty with presenting so many scenarios is that some are bound to be uneven, and they are. Sometimes the acting just soars, and other times, it fails to gets off the ground. Sometimes you just want to stay in that scene longer, to see what happens next, and other times you can’t wait until it’s over so you can move on to something else. And, of course, the inherent difficulty with so many characters appearing on the screen is that we don’t get to develop a particular affection for any of them, so there is nobody to really “root for” here. Other than the type of film itself.
They’ll love it in film school. Less so at the box office. Particularly in the dreaded “Heartland,” where all the fat bumpkins, thickheaded oafs, and uncultured dimwits reside, including, alas, yours truly.
RONALD P. SALFEN is pastor of Grace Church, Greenville, Texas.