Starting off like a queer Short Cuts, continuing like Rent without the songs and ending on a bittersweet note which can be heard reverberating through the likes of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind or Sideways, Urbania is a tale of sex and desire with a truly unexpected, and quite nasty, sting in the tale.

Set in New York, it follows Charlie (Dan Futterman), who appears to be drowning his singleton sorrows on a boozy night out in pursuit of a bit of neighbourhood rough, Dean (Samuel Ball). However, it soon turns out that Dean is a racist, misogynistic and, most troublesome for Charlie, homophobic character. Undeterred, Charlie directs the two of them to a nearby cruising ground, and the film snowballs, fast, into an unexpected revelation.

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It’s a strange film; only towards its end do you realise why the first two-thirds seem a bit messy and lacking in very much logical character motivation. The importance of the opening line: "everybody has a story to tell" cannot be over-stated. Up until this point it’s easy to dismiss the film as another portentous New York gay movie with art-house pretensions. Alan Cumming even pops up in a thankless, and somewhat distracting, cameo as an HIV sufferer.

Because of the topsy-turvy narrative, the film is volatile and unexpected, which works to both its benefit and its detriment. It takes a while to settle down into a comfortable, consistent tone, however, it's wonderfully unpredictable. There is a lot of post-production overkill in the first few minutes (overbearing music, self-conscious editing, a headache inducing title sequence) possibly in order to cover up the screeching noise the rusty cogs of the narrative make with the friction of too many story threads crashing into each other. The film’s theatrical roots come to the fore at this point, as it’s clear the screenwriter didn’t quite know what to do with some of the material.

However, the movie does raise some interesting questions about the nature of narrative (both accidentally, and on purpose), redemption and character motivation, and its clashing of influences and genres is original and striking. Although it’s not quite the profound study of love and loss it thinks it is, it’s affecting and sincere. There are some good performances delivered by an attractive cast scattered throughout and it’s thoroughly engaging.

If you can wade through the first, mostly appalling, 20 minutes, Urbania is well worth your time. A refreshing, and eventually quite shocking, slant on redemption, and a piece that bursts through the barriers of genre trappings, it’s cool, thought-provoking, affecting and easy on the eye.

Reviewed on: 26 Mar 2009
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A lost soul wanders the streets of New York looking for a mysterious stranger.
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Director: Jon Matthews

Writer: Daniel Reitz, Daniel Reitz, Jon Matthews

Starring: Dan Futterman, Samuel Ball, Lothaire Bluteau, Alan Cumming, Josh Hamilton, Matt Keeslar, James Simon, Megan Dodds, Gabriel Olds, Barbara Sukowa

Year: 2000

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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