Paul Mazursky is a very personal film-maker; he has invested a part of himself in every one of his creations (Alex in Wonderland, Blume in Love, Harry and Tonto). His latest is no different. It is an autobiographical look at Mazursky's experiences as young actor in Greenwich Village during the early Fifties a time when creative theatre and Joseph McCarthy were both blooming. The Village then was filled with artists and hopeful actors, novelists and aspiring writers, poets and singers. It was a demilitarized zone set apart from the conformist ethic characteristic of the post-war period. The bohemian life was going through birth pangs and by the middle of the decade would be flowering into the Beat Movement with all its impudence, primitivism, and frankness. The setting of Next Stop, Greenwich Village is the twilight zone between conservative, corporate, and suburban values of most Americans and yet-to-come barbaric yawps of the Beat Generation. Maursky's re-creation of this moment is just right.
In the film's opening scene, Larry Lapinsky (Lenny Baker), a twenty-two-year-old graduate of Brooklyn College is bidding farewell to his possessive mother (Shelley Winters) and his passive father (Mike Kellin). When he dons a French beret and smiles, we know that Larry is ready for a new life! The unknown awaits him in Greenwich Village to Larry a place synonymous with freedom and all the wild possibilities every young creative person dreams about.
Yet in an often grim and always affecting way, Larry's experiences in the Village are filled with frustrations. His girl friend Sarah (Ellen Greene) cannot cut the umbilical chord from home and is hesitant to marry him; his mother embarrassingly intrudes upon his life on several momentous occasions, convincing Larry that "she invented the Oedipus Complex"; and his friends begin to drain his energy. They include Anita (Lois Smith), a suicidal actress; Bernstein (Antonio Fargas) who's black and gay and near a nervous breakdown; Robert (Christopher Walken), a Lothario who cynically uses women; and Connie (Dori Brenner), an earth mother friend-to-all who is aching with loneliness. As Larry responds to these individuals, his mother, and his girl, he fashions a kind of declaration of independence which in the end pays off with a trip to Hollywood to appear in a movie.
A sensitive humanism shows itself at work in Paul Mazurskys direction of this film. He cares about the people in the Village about their vocational hopes, sexual confusions, and personal traumas. He is a lover of people and things, one capable to borrow a line from A Thousand Clowns of being touched by "the earthly lyricism of hot pastrami, the pungent fantasy of corned beef, pickles, frankfurters, and the great impertinence of good mustard." There is genuine anxiety evidenced in several acting class and actors' audition sequences (along with tart humor). There is an unvarnished reality to some of the scenes dealing with Larry and Sarah's agony over the meaning of their relationship. And throughout, Mazursky gives his actors and actresses leeway to be awkward, frantic, hysterical, and even ludicrous. In their mutual quest for self-fulfillment, these struggling souls wrestle with the demons of self-destruction and are haunted by the omnipresent feeling that they may not have what it takes to be an artist.
Next Stop, Greenwich Village is an ingratiating puppy dog of a movie with its tail wagging and its ears flapping affectionately. Mazursky's humanism at times becomes a little too gooey but it still manages to remain durable. He has drawn out excellent performances from Baker and Greene as the young lovers. Both the place and the people are believable confirming once again this director's knack for making movies that matter because they are so richly human.