`Urbania’ walks a fine line between reality and dreams


By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
September 22, 2000

3 stars

“Heard any good stories lately? I’ve got a good one. And this one really happened.”

And so begins “Urbania,” a superbly crafted film that will leave moviegoers both unsettled and captivated by the time the closing credits roll.

Dan Futterman stars as Charlie, a troubled young man who is haunted by the past. Charlie is the type of guy who puts quarters in other people’s meters so that they won’t get tickets. He gives the homeless guy in front of his apartment building food, gum and his coat. And at one point in his life, he was in a deliriously happy relationship with an angelic looking man named Chris (Matt Keeslar).

Lying in bed, he tries to will himself to sleep. Instead, he recalls bits and pieces of his life that may or may not be as real as the urban legends he has heard about the man with the missing kidney, the woman who tries to dry her poodle in the microwave, the harried mom who leaves her baby on the car roof, the infected hypodermic needless left in pay phone change slots, and the vacationing woman who unknowingly used a toothbrush that had been stuck up a man’s, um, never mind.

Like, Charlie, we’ve all heard these stories from friends or colleagues who swear that they really happened to their friend’s best friend of a friend. We never really believe them, but you have to wonder if there isn’t a grain of truth to the stories before they got twisted into fiction.

This element of truth plays a crucial role in Charlie’s quest to reconnect with a stranger. It takes a while to figure out what his role is in Charlie’s life–whether he is mean to salve or absolve Charlie’s torment. When reality sets in, the truth proves to be as unbelievable as the urban legends he’s been reciting.

Speaking of which, the film’s urban legend theme all but disappears two-thirds into the movie. But director Jon Shear slyly reveals a new urban legend in the making.

As Charlie, Futterman delicately straddles the line of paranoia and sweet confusion. He has the same kind of strange good looks that makes David Duchovny handsome. But more important, he projects vulnerability and strength. We like him and want to look out for him.

First-time filmmaker Shear shot “Urbania” on location in New York in 18 days for $225,000. Filmed in Super 16, the movie has a gritty feel that’s as integral as anything else in moving along the storyline. The grainy look and more than 1,500 cuts perfectly capture the manic intensity of Manhattan at night.

Of his stark technique, Shear says that it represents how New York felt to him–there was no middle ground. And while the exterior is definitely all New York, the film conveys a European feel that is light years ahead of the typical Hollywood film. “Urbania” doesn’t have a traditional beginning, middle or end, but it works.


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