Actress and first-time writer-director Adrienne Shelly, best known for her work in Hartley’s Trust, has created a light, original and at times amusing urban fantasy in Sudden Manhattan. But while pic starts out searching for answers to life’s Big Questions, it ends up settling for much less.
For the first hour, pic bops along in a breezy, self-assured way with nods to Hal Hartley’s deadpan nonsequitors and the jokey mysticism of Woody Allen’s Alice. In the last reel, though, pic degenerates into a kind of cut-rate surrealism a la Twin Peaks, and climaxes in a baffling finale that is neither funny nor satisfying.
Donna (Shelly) is a cute, single twentysomething woman living in the Village. Things take a turn for the weird when Donna starts hearing earthquake-like rumblings emanating from a plate of scrambled eggs and witnesses a series of identical murders on a quiet residential street. Unsure whether it’s her or the world that’s gone crazy, she seeks the guidance of Dorinda, a lugubrious gypsy soothsayer played with casual aplomb by Louise Lasser.
One by one, more characters are thrown into the self-consciously wacky mix. Once all the characters are introduced, however, Shelly doesn’t seem to know what to do with them.