Playing like an unauthorized adaptation of Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids grafted onto a Jules et Jim-evoking look at the dawn of AIDS, Cyril Morin’s NY84 surely intends its many appropriations of biographical detail as a loving homage to Smith and her intimate friend Robert Mapplethorpe. But Smith’s magical book deserves much better than this sluggish and didactic effort, which does justice neither to these artists nor to the generation of Downtown New Yorkers whose world was devastated in the eighties. Barring some controversy over life rights, this earnest but unconvincing picture is bound for quick obscurity.
Several recent indies (like Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s Ten Thousand Saints) have nostalgically evoked the Bohemian period of late seventies/early eighties NYC, and most have done a better job of capturing nothing-to-lose artistic excitement. Here, Morin offers a den of pleasure-seeking creativity that is oddly joyless, its drunken recitations of Baudelaire and Rimbaud mere signifiers of second-hand transcendence.
To the well-known pairing of Smith and Mapplethorpe, whose stand-ins here are called Kate (Sam Quartin) and Anton (Chris Schellenger), Morin adds a third character, Keith (Davy J. Marr), a graffiti-writing gay man perhaps inspired by Keith Haring. Instead of giving us the pleasure of seeing these aspiring artists meet and discover their kinship, the film begins with them already living as an inseparable trio in 1980, sharing a bed and going out on all-night, pansexual clubbing capers.
Lest we enjoy this promiscuity vicariously, the movie almost immediately fast-forwards to 1984, when both of the men are suffering from AIDS and Kate is watching the world fall apart. Morin makes rather half-hearted moves toward mock-documentary here, adding some man-on-the-street pseudo-interviews in between scenes of Keith wasting away in a hospital bed and Anton enjoying artistic fame.
Clearly working with limited means, Morin has a hard time making either period very convincing as he hops back and forth between them. But some awkward details — like the presentation of Anton’s supposedly celebrated homoerotic nude art photography in cheap frames one would use for family portraits — are hard to excuse even given the budget. While the three leads are committed and give respectable performances (albeit ones that fail to conjure the artists who inspired the characters), NY84 has little going for it that hasn’t been taken directly from much better books and movies.
Production company: Media In Sync
Cast: Sam Quartin, Chris Schellenger, Davy J. Marr, Ray Field, Chadwick Brown, Drew Gardner
Director-Screenwriter: Cyril Morin
Producers: Cyril Morin, Juliette Garrigues
Director of photography: Romain Wilhelm
Production designer: Matthew Vidalis
Editor: Stephanie Pedelacq
Composer: Fabien Waltmann