What a treat it is to see veteran character actor Dominic Chianese given the opportunity to carry the vibrant new independent film, “The Last New Yorker.”
The collaboration between writer Adam Forgash and director Harvey Wang is steeped in affection for New York City and the struggles of aging people to survive there. The film opens today in an exclusive run at the Quad Cinemas on West 13th St. in Manhattan.
The mix of drama, comedy and some rather fanciful plot twists might remind you of the 1981 Louis Malle-John Guare picture “Atlantic City” in which Burt Lancaster played an elderly numbers runner with little or no place in the Jersey Shore town after casino gambling was legalized.
The Chianese character in “The Last New Yorker,” Lenny Sugarman, is long retired from the rag trade when we meet him, but he is still full of hopes and dreams.
Lenny’s best friend, Ruben (Dick Latessa) keeps telling him that the New York in which they grew up and spent their prime is vanishing because the middle class has been priced out of the city. Ruben thinks they should move to Alabama or North Carolina where, he says, life is cheaper and easier.
“The Last New Yorker” was filmed in 2006, so it is a tad out of date in terms of finances — old-time businesses aren’t being pushed out by cruel realtors demanding more money, they’re shutting down due to the continuing ravages of the financial collapse of 2008-2009. And when Lenny engineers a bizarre stock market scheme that might hurt his old friends, we can’t help but think of recession era crooks like Bernie Madoff.
Fortunately, the movie is more of a character study and mood piece than a tough-minded docudrama about the financial realities of contemporary Manhattan.
We get to follow Lenny and Ruben on long, chatty walks through the changing city and the two actors’ teamwork is wonderful.
New York stage great Kathleen Chalfant has been given the juicy supporting role of a woman Lenny becomes convinced is the love of his life — even though they’ve never met.
Lenny manages to score a date with the elegant, retired department store buyer. The character of the kind but sane Mimi keeps the film balanced when the more fanciful elements threaten to turn “The Last New Yorker” into pure whimsy.
Wang and Forgash have made a little gem — one of those movies in which the journey is so interesting that you don’t care so much about the final destination.