“Pretend it’s a City” (2021)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
“I have all the habits I had in the ‘70s,” New York-based humorist and writer Fran Lebowitz tells director (and interviewer) Martin Scorsese in one episode of the 3.5-hour “Pretend it’s a City,” a short documentary mini-series now on Netflix. It’s not the first time Scorsese has worked with Lebowitz, but it is his longest project with her. And much like that quote would imply, it’s a series full of old-school wisecracks, anecdotes, and insights from someone who lives a most iconic New York lifestyle.
In an episodic style that loosely groups banter about similar subjects (money, art, transportation, etc.), “Pretend it’s a City” simply allows Lebowitz a platform to talk about a wide range of subjects. This is Scorsese giving Lebowitz the floor. Could he have shaved off an hour and released “Pretend it’s a City” as a feature documentary? Yes. Would that mean you lose an hour of Lebowitz’s quips? Also yes! It’s not worth the convenience! Even if Lebowitz’s old-school ideas sometimes feel outdated. When she talks about refusing to separate problematic artists from their enjoyable art, you’ll wonder why she felt the need to mention that knowing that she likely knows how it will be received by some. As someone who was not too familiar with Lebowitz, I liken her to Jerry Seinfeld. Very New York, very funny, not very politically correct. But as opposed to some funny people who are non-PC and also bigots, Lebowitz pretty much hates everyone equally. She has problems with mankind, not with specific groups. It’s a fine line.
Even if you’re not interested in Fran Lebowitz, you might become interested if you’re a fan of Scorsese’s. It’s hard not to be drawn in by someone Scorsese clearly finds so fascinating (he directed a 2010 documentary about her and also cast her in “The Wolf of Wall Street). He laughs like I’ve never seen him laugh before. And I get it! She’s damn funny. Even when she’s not trying to be (or maybe she always is), the ways she thinks and speaks about topics are constantly new. Even a topic as overdone as air travel is given new light by Lebowitz. Two-hundred minutes fly by when you watch “Pretend it’s a City.”