“I still flippin’ care”
The slice of life adventures start at a company party, each attendee in differing modes of acquaintance considering the company’s large size and the locale’s (New York City) sprawling possibilities. There’s drinking and conversation, stolen kisses and loud guffaws, and of course the promise of a hangover during work the next day—one worth the trouble if the evening ends with a plus one or not if morning delivers an empty bed. Writer/director Gary King hasn’t created this soirée for the characters’ benefit, though. They all leave knowing exactly the same people they did going in. Its inclusion is instead for our benefit, to get our bearings within the big city nightlife so we know where the inevitable future’s crisscrossing paths truly began. Welcome to New York Lately.
The action’s broken into three groupings. First is the aforementioned company’s HR representative Jared Ishii (Jared Asato) and best bud Ringo Barnes (John Weisenburger) from security. Next is a duo composed of Truly Hanssen (Susan Cagle) and Veronica Darling (Jenn Dees), struggling artists currently paying the bills as baristas. And last but not least is Elliot George (Jeremy Koerner): an author-turned-journalist stuck in a soulless marriage with a wife (Bridget Trama) he believes is cheating on him. Hardly the only heartbreak, Jared and Ringo’s friend Mark Wagner (Mark DiConzo) is also in the midst of lost love after Andrea (Molly Ryman) throws him out. Each exists in a malaise too far from the excitement of adulthood’s beginnings and seemingly farther from hitting the next big step.
They’re all in one way or another unhappy with their current lots in life whether it’s not finding enough success in their dream field or being stuck in a moderately successful career without the strength or motivation to escape. They are possessed by differing stages of maturity too, dumbing things down when the stakes are low but unable to pretend they don’t take their responsibilities seriously in life, love, or work otherwise. This is that stage where a separation between personal and professional spheres must be made. People can reside in both, but the actions inside one can no longer shape those in the other. Sometimes you need to be the boss and make the tough choices. Sometimes friends on the receiving end take that as betrayal.
What occurs here can only be described as life—an authentically portrayed trajectory of twenty-somethings moving one step forward and two steps back until the reality of who they are and where they want to be reconcile together. While the two groups of friends converge on each other through chance encounters (Truly and Jared on the street to strike up a flirtatious rapport while Veronica and Mark meet on a job dubbing films), Elliot’s path is more or less his own to travel. His journey is an interesting complement to the others because his stage in life is later than theirs and his tale’s transformation into clandestine stakeouts with hired PI Sam Thompson (Vanessa Streiff) a pulpy, somewhat over-the-top divergence from their more naturalistic progressions.
It’s a fun change of pace with only Elliot and Sam’s age difference being wider than the comfort level of certain circumstances proving problematic. Theirs is the most pure sense of evolution and understanding as her proficiency to uncover the truth gives him an understanding of how much of an impact his wife has had on his life for better or worse. And maybe his fork isn’t as far removed from the others after all since their bids for love could end up exactly where he finds himself—lied to and ruined. Mark sees Andrea’s face on every girl he talks to, but that doesn’t mean she’s the right one for him. If she left today she’d probably leave tomorrow. Sometimes you just have to let go.
Other moments must be held tighter such as Truly and Jared’s budding relationship of meet-cute awkwardness. They’re both so engrossed in career goals that their chance meeting ends without an exchange of phone numbers or personal details besides first names. Their chemistry is obvious, their smiles revelatory. But both have their heads trapped in sectors outside the realm of love. Theirs is the start of romance whereas Mark and Elliot provide the sad truth of its end. Add Veronica’s faux sense of confidence at auditions that actually pushes people away rather than bring them closer and you have youthful humanity on display in differing states of misguided error. They know what they want and how to get it, but the doing is always more difficult.
New York Lately becomes a manifestation of the compromises we must make within ourselves to find a healthy balance of hope and reality. We hold onto the tough job because it affords us the time to be who we want to be outside the office. We let go of loved ones who’ve grown distant because pining over someone who will never come back only expends energy we don’t have that could be used elsewhere. But just as some compromises must be made, others are shown to be expendable. Some were made for the wrong reasons and we discover we deserve more. We don’t have to sacrifice our careers for personal gain or our morality for our careers. Be true to yourself and the rest will fall into place.
Will it be bumpy? Sure. Will those bumps make us better off? Definitely. Life isn’t easy and that goes for urban dwellers and suburbanites just the same. So credit King for finding the universal truths we all endure in order to make this film resonant for New Yorkers and non-New Yorkers alike. It’s definitely an NYC story with its on-location environments and artistic/corporate lifestyles, but the characters within that setting are like you and me. They delude themselves and fear solitude. They worry about the future so much that it affects the present and they risk self-sabotaging everything because of societal pressure. They feel pain to learn what it is they want. And despite it seeming as though life’s slipping away, it hasn’t yet begun.