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Public Speaking

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

There is a generation---perhaps even two---that doesn't know who Fran Lebowitz is. In a perfect world, every man, woman and child would read her two books of humorous essays, 1978's Metropolitan Life and 1980's Social Studies, as a matter of course. (We're not delusional, however; simply making sure the latter's young, impressionable minds are exposed to Lebowitz sharp, sparkling barbs will suffice, thanks.) Though she continues to suffer from a decades-long case of writer's block---in her words, "writer's blockade"---the 60-year-old still does public-speaking engagements throughout the year. Martin Scorsese, bless him, has given this bullish lit wit another stage on which to rage, with scenes of the author holding court at the Waverly Inn about her career. And while us diehard Lebowitzers would happily devour a hagiography of our hero, the director has delivered something far more significant.

Instead of simply ping-ponging between praise and backstory, Scorsese presents a cultural context for his subject, placing her in the grand tradition of bon mot gunslingers like the Oscars (Wilde and Levant), and in the milieu of '70s New York where both of the director and Lebowitz came of age artistically. Clips of James Baldwin mixing it up with William F. Buckley Jr. on TV remind us that chatty intellectualism used to be a blood sport, a notion Lebowitz personified; shots of Scorsese's own Taxi Driver and vintage Fran-foolery at Studio 54 open up the era in which she reigned. By the end of this funny, insightful doc, you get a sense of an extraordinary mind that both fueled and fed the zeitgeist. Don't miss it.

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Written by David Fear
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