Only in 'Urbania'
By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 27, 2000
"Urbania" is an Olympic guessing game, a snappily edited, intriguingly assembled conundrum that keeps us wondering: What's going on with Charlie?
Dan Futterman and Alan Cumming explore "Urbania."
But in Jon Shear's one-of-a-kind movie, we also wonder, more
deeply: What's going on with people? In this movie's Naked City,
clearly New York, where there must be at least 8 million stories,
"Urbania" isn't just one of those stories. It's about the infinity of
urban myths, absurd ideas and other apocryphal anecdotes knocking
around uselessly in our heads.
These are the stories that we've either heard from the "friend of a
friend" or we've simply made up. But in the movie, we're asked to
ponder, are they really make believe?
Is it possible that an old lady really did attempt to dry her
poodle by shoving the poor critter in the microwave? Was there really
a one-night-stand lover who left his or her love in the morning after
etching "Welcome to the world of AIDS" in lipstick on the mirror? This
movie impishly puts these questions to rest or does it? The fact is,
"Urbania" creates enough doubt all around to make everyone
Charlie (Dan Futterman) is the kind of savvy, hiply grungy guy
you'd expect to see nursing a drink and a smoke in a Greenwich Village
bar. Something happened to him a few months ago, something painful and
Beset with fleeting, nightmarish memories, Charlie's thoughts have
become a crazy cluster of the past and present as he negotiates his
way through life.
Charlie's life consists mainly of meetings or chance encounters
with former lovers, neighbors, strangers and, most tantalizingly, a
good-looking man named Dean (Samuel Ball) whose arm is tattooed with a
heart, surrounded by a snake.
"I think I met him," Charlie tells his friend Brett (Alan Cumming),
referring to Dean. "The guy who will put everything right."
And what, exactly, needs to be put right? That's an intriguing
tidbit that remains so for much of the movie. Charlie's in mourning
for someone, we learn. But is that someone dead or a man he broke up
You almost have to treat "Urbania" as one of those Magic Eye
stereograms, those abstract color schemes that become figurative when you stare at them long enough. If there's an answer to
Charlie's quandary, it can only be understood through his emotional
journey, which takes place over the course of one night, much in the
style of Martin Scorsese's "After Hours."
That journey includes encounters with a narcissistic actor named
Ron (Gabriel Olds), a friendly bartender named Matt (Josh Hamilton),
an old flame named Chris (Matt Keeslar) and a homeless guy called Bill
(Lothaire Bluteau), who insists that he's on the wagon and is deeply
insulted when Charlie gives him money for "something to drink."
Charlie finds himself almost fatalistically drawn to Dean, the
drunken, modelish man who detests gay men, but seems drawn to their
nightly meeting places. Charlie thinks, in Dean's case, the lady doth
protest too much. And in what amounts to an epic finale, he tags along
with Dean, pretending to be a heterosexual who also thinks of gays as
"wildlife." Eventually, Charlie and Dean face off, as they were fated
"Urbania," a $225,000 movie, which was shot originally in super
16mm but blown up digitally, has picked up a handful of prizes on the
smaller festival circuit, such as the Seattle International, the
Provincetown and the San Francisco Lesbian & Gay. It's the kind of
movie that defies categorization and teaches us to watch movies
without that ready-for-Julia-Roberts glaze across our eyeballs. And no
matter what you make of it, there's no denying its surreal, hypnotic
effect. You can't watch this movie without an exhilarating rush of
introspection. And I submit, that sets this movie and this filmmaker
apart from the crowd.
"Urbania" (R, 105 minutes) Contains sexual scenes, obscenity and