“Do I look welcoming to you?” This is how Fran Lebowitz would respond to you if you are a tourist who’s standing on the street, holding a map, and asking her the directions to Times Square. The brilliant humorist is featured as the main subject in Pretend It’s a City, a documentary series directed by Martin Scorsese about the life of Lebowitz, and the indifferent yet vibrant New York City, where she lived for most of her life.
The documentary series contains seven thirty minute-long episodes. Each episode is made up of interviews and speeches of Fran Lebowitz regarding a certain topic such as culture, transportation, real estate, sports, health, childhood, movies, and books. Lebowitz is able to find interesting points within each of those topics and relate it to her personal experience. For example, when she is talking about the change of taxi drivers in NYC, she brought up her own experience of driving a taxi more than 40 years ago. She said: “[Driving a taxi in New York] was not like in London, you know, where they had this really famous, hard test with eight million questions. But there are a number of things you have to know. You have to know where the airport is. And you have to know different stores, different places. Now, they don’t. It’s a very devalued job now.” Throughout the series, Lebowitz’s witty observations and complaints of her life in NYC provide the audience a new perspective to view the city.
However, despite my liking of Fran Lebowitz, this documentary series does seem a bit awkward and out of date from the perspective of young audiences. The Saturday Night Live’s impression of Pretend It’s a City depicts this awkwardness quite well, where Lebowitz is said to be a stubborn old person who blames every problem in NYC on tourists and Bloomberg’s smoking ban. Indeed, Lebowitz’s endless nostalgic chatter about the city several decades ago and complaints of its current aspects might be a bit annoying for younger viewers. Her blunt personality and special understanding of the world certainly do not align with the modern mainstream values.
Nevertheless, it is without a doubt that Lebowitz is a talented woman. If you are someone who’s interested in NYC in the last century or curious about some of the society’s values, you can definitely check out this show. Lebowitz’s intellectual humor will certainly fascinate you, and you will never regret being introduced to this brilliant humorist.