Fran Lebowitz is full of opinions, some you might completely disagree with and others you might find hilarious. The author, public speaker, and occasional actor has teamed up with legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese for their second project together, Pretend It’s a City, a 7-part documentary film series. Lebowitz gets to talk about plenty of her opinions throughout the episodes, ranging from her distaste for the subway system to her love of books.
Both New York City veterans, Scorsese and Lebowitz are an entertaining duo. Fran takes the lead when it comes to the conversations that drive the majority of the episodes, but Scorsese’s stylistic touch brings everything together. What you get is a fun and energetic pace, bouncing from story to story in a way that feels seamless. Although interviews drive most of the film’s dialogue, there is plenty of footage that keeps it visually appealing. From shots in some of NYC’s most iconic locations, to vintage footage of the city, to the recurring images of Fran towering over a replica of the city, Pretend It’s a City is never boring. For any New Yorker, old and new, there is something to enjoy here.
It all starts off with the most typical complaints of New Yorkers. People don’t know how to walk, avoid Times Square at all costs, and who’s idea was it to put plants and lawn chairs all over the city, are just some of the rapid fire jabs we get right off the bat. Of course there is a bit on the subway system, particularly about a day in which the L train needed to shut down due to a bad smell. “The subway’s closed because it smells horrible? What does that even mean,” exclaims Lebowitz, “how much worse could it smell than it usually smells?”
Despite plenty of complaining, Fran still says she could never leave. “New York is never boring,” she says, later adding that so many people keep coming to the city for the sole purpose that “It’s New York!”
While there are plenty of silly stories and takes on daily city life, there are just as many serious and thoughtful moments, some personal favorites coming in the final few episodes.
One of my personal favorite conversations comes in the last episode. It opens up with Fran talking about reading, saying when she learned to read her world became a “billion times bigger.” She goes on to talk about her collection of dictionaries, about the bookstores on 4th avenue she used to frequent and how only one remains. This relates back to the foundation many of the conversations throughout the series sit on, the idea of a changing New York. Is that good or bad? There’s no one answer really, you’ll have to decide for yourself.
A Pre-Pandemic New York City
While there are plenty of stand-out moments and stories, one thing that remained constant throughout was the yearning felt for a pre-pandemic world. Pretend It’s a City was filmed before coronavirus was a thought, therefore NYC is captured how it used to be. Tourists are abound, there isn’t a mask in sight, the city looks like itself once again.
It’s ironic really, they spend so much time talking about the changing city with no idea of how much it really would begin to change. It was a welcome departure from the NYC we know today. It’s nice to go back to a time where the easiest joke you could make about New York was the subway system.
There is some hope hidden behind Fran’s snappy opinions, that one day the city will look like this full of life again.
Watch Pretend It’s a City on Netflix here.