Pretend It’s A City
Board of Estimate
Department of Sports & Health
Hall of Records
Produced by Martin Scorsese, Pretend It’s a City is essentially a 30-min episodic docu-series that serves as one woman’s love letter and humorous anecdotal postcard about New York City and urban life in general. That woman in question happens to be prolific writer, humorist and part-time actress Fran Lebowitz.
Each episode is set around New York City and American culture in general, with Fran commenting on everything from smoking and wellness magazines through to the New York subway and nostalgic looks back at a bygone era.
As a very opinionated woman, Fran is not afraid to speak her mind and these sweeping generalizations only further push this documentary toward a niche audience. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, and it’s pretty admiring to hear Fran riff about these different topics, bringing up a lot of thought provoking and bold points.
If you’re a fan of Scorsese, New York City’s history or Fran Lebowitz’s work, you’ll absolutely be in your element here. For everyone else, it’s definitely worth sticking on an episode to see if this your jam but don’t be surprised if it’s not.
A lot of the time the camera hangs on with a single take, as Fran monologues about a variety of different topics, guided slightly by interjections or, lets face it, mostly bouts of laughter; an impromptu laugh track that nobody asked for.
It’s obvious the two have chemistry and history together though, and it’s not that much of a deal breaker to be fair. What will be a deal breaker however, is the way Fran discusses the world and how things have changed since the old days. It’s not quite “Old man yells at the cloud” territory, but at times it does feel like forgettable dinner-party chatter than something you’ll come away from thinking, “Yeah, I actually completely agree with that.”
The highlights of the series though come from the archival footage and the various cutaway shots of New York’s history. While still relatively young compared to other parts in the would, New York has an undeniable charm and rich culture that’s absolutely fascinating to see unfold through different stock photos and news reels from the past.
Pretend It’s A City is a very niche documentary for a very niche audience. It’s certainly uniquely made, playing off Fran’s distinct monologue-esque talks with long cuts. If you’re the target audience for this then you’re sure to have a good time. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to see that target audience being very broad. Try it for an episode; if you’re not sold then it’s best to move on.