I love seeing movies that are set in New York. Since I moved to London from Manhattan five years ago, I don't get back as often as I'd like and seeing films set on the streets of neighborhoods that I once knew makes me feel a bit nostalgic. Recently I saw W.E., Madonna's new film about Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII (or David, as his inner circle called him). I’ve always respected Madonna's business acumen more than her creative talents, so it was a big surprise to find that I really enjoyed it (and am slightly embarrassed to admit it).
A lot of reviewers have taken Madonna to task for playing fast and loose with history. While that may be true (I’m no English history scholar), I’m more interested in the creative license she took in depicting life in New York City. The movie follows a modern-day protagonist (Abbie Cornish) who is obsessed with Wallis, and highlights Wallis and Edward’s story in flashbacks. Abbie’s character is really wealthy, and lives in a sickeningly gorgeous apartment on the Upper East Side. The first example of ‘it only happens in the movies’ is the fact that this young girl, albeit married to a rich psychiatrist, lives in an apartment the size of a city block with an interior décor that would make Kelly Hoppen weep.
It reminded me of Carrie and Big’s apartment of the (ill-fated) second Sex and the City movie, which was equally sickening in it’s over the top grandeur. When you live in New York and have conditioned yourself to think that 500 square foot fifth floor walkup is an acceptable way to live, it’s hard to imagine that people actually inhabit apartments that are that fantastic, and that bloody big. Or maybe we just blank it out because it’s too painful to contemplate.
The second example of creative license really made me chuckle, because it happens so often in movies about New York. Abbie is coming out of Sotheby’s (as you do--surely you’ve been keeping up with your weekly auction attendance), steps onto the road and lo and behold, flags down a cab in two seconds flat. As we all know, there is absolutely nothing about this scenario that even remotely resembles reality. Nothing. Hang on, I’m wrong--the taxis in New York are indeed yellow, just as they are in the movie. But that’s IT. In my ten years of Manhattan living, I have never once walked out onto the street, flung up my hand only to see a taxi magically appear. Any attempt at finding a free cab usually involves some type of bloodshed (either yours or the poor sap you’ve elbowed out of the way), profanities yelled at high volume and a broken heel.
Finally, and certainly less egregious than the previous two examples but annoying nonetheless, is how often the characters smoke indoors. Smoking indoors has been banned for several years now (thankfully), but there is a scene in a coffee shop where Abbie’s love interest lights up one after the other. Really? Where does that happen? Let me know so I can make sure never to go there since the smell of smoke makes me sick (and I certainly don’t patronize non-law-abiding eateries – come on now).
This might be Madonna’s New York – in fact, it most certainly is – but it isn’t most of ours. That said, it’s always fun to imagine what it would be like if we all lived like that and always had a free cab at our disposal. A girl can dream.
Gabrielle Hase is a Director at Soleberry Advisory (http://www.soleberry.com), a digital commerce consultancy for the private equity, venture capital and private investor communities. Gabrielle is a transplanted New Yorker living in London, where she donates too much money to animal charities, sees too many movies, and writes a personal blog called Bloody Brilliant! (www.bloodybrilliantblog.com).