LGBT Movies: Urbania (2000)

Dan Futterman plays an insomniac who wanders through Manhattan. He collects urban legends from the strangers he meets. Urbania is a strange film with an interesting cast. The episodic nature keeps it from building momentum. The protagonists’ motivation is unclear till the third act. A brutal finale reveals that the work was a revenge thriller all along. You have to be in the right mood for its angry message.

It’s hard to summarize. But I’ll try in this spoiler filled recap.

Act One: Urban Legends

Scene One: Office
DAN FUTTERMAN: I can’t sleep. Heard any stories?
GREEK CHORUS: Stories. Stories. Stories.
CO-WORKER: Hear about the guy who got picked up at a phone booth? The lady knocked him out and stole his kidney. Manhattan is full of terrible stories.
GREEK CHORUS: Stories. Stories. Stories.
(Dan sees a tattooed man get in a cab. Dan goes home and masturbates to the sound of his neighbors shagging.)

Scene Two: Bar
DAN: Heard any stories?
BARTENDER: This lady said she’d give me $150 bucks if I flashed her. I did. She died a month later and left me a fortune in her will.
DAN: Hot. I’m looking for a guy with a thematically significant tattoo.
BARTENDER: A snake around a beating heart? He comes in late.

Scene Three: Apartment
ALAN CUMMING: Where have you been you jerk? I haven’t seen you since…
DAN: I’m sorry I ghosted you. But I found him. Once we meet everything will be made right.
ALAN: That sounds romantic. Not the least bit ominous.  

Act Two: Handsome Strangers

Scene Four: Hook Up
(A Twunk strokes Dan Futterman’s hairy chest.)
TWUNK: I’m masc for masc but I guess you’ll do. Your scar is hot.
DAN: Go to hell. You think you’re tough? You bring a stranger in your apartment? Anything could happen.
(Dan menaces the guy. Then storms out.)

Scene Five: Street Corner
(Straight couple makes out. Gay couple holds hands and gets a bottle thrown at them. Straight guy smirks.)
DAN: You live in my building. When I hear you straights have sex I touch myself.
STRAIGHT GUY: Gross. Are you trying to prove a point?
DAN: Sort of.

Scene Six: Bar
PANHANDLER: Hey Mister! You wanna hear another urban legend?
DAN: We can’t put them all in the recap. We’ve got to find a plot.  
TATTOOED MAN: I got your [CENSORED] plot. Let me tell you a story about my [CENSORED] ex-girlfriend. It’s tough to be a man these days.
DAN: I sympathize with your crisis of masculinity. Let me buy you a drink. Or five.
TATTOOED MAN: (Drinks.) Let’s go beat up some queers.
(Dan follows the Man into an alley.)

Act Three: No Rest

Scene Seven: Trigger Warning
GHOST BOYFRIEND: How does the story end?
DAN: Last year the tattooed man gay bashed us. We watch him murder you in the past. And we watch me torture him in the present. I wanted to become the next urban legend. The queer who fought back.
GHOST BOYFRIEND: I don’t want you to become a monster. Did you murder him?
DAN: I couldn’t. I let him go.
GHOST BOYFRIEND: I’m relieved. Do you feel better?
DAN: No. But I gave my coat to a homeless man. And when I got home I finally fell asleep.
GHOST BOYFRIEND: I’ll take it.


Story Time

At a time when most movies about gays have gotten softer, adopting or simply imitating established Hollywood formulas, “Urbania” is an unabashedly political film that recalls the cycle of queer cinema in the early 1990s.

Emanuel Levy, Variety

In horror movies, hell is other people and in love stories, heaven is other people, and in living in the city, it’s both.

Director Jon Shear

Jon Shear had starred in Daniel Reitz’s play Urban Folk Tales. They co-adapted the work into a screenplay. Urbania premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Then Lionsgate Films produced a limited release. The movie was shot in 18 days on Super 16mm. The gritty, faded images have the feel of half-remembered nightmares.  

Dan Futterman played the homophobic son in The Birdcage the year before. A chaste and non-threatening film. Urbania enjoys objectifying him. His sex appeal thrills the queer characters and intimidates the straight ones. His domestic flashbacks with his boyfriend provide his few moments of joy

Elements of the story are rooted in the 90’s. Dan visits phone booths to listen to his late boyfriend’s answering machine. But much remains timely. Cities are strange, hate crimes still occur and urban legends have moved to the internet. They reflect social anxieties. And remind folks, as Urbania puts it, that “someone’s always got it worse than you.”

You can watch Urbania on Tubi. You can find my reviews on The Avocado, Letterboxd and Serializd. My podcast, Rainbow Colored Glasses, can be found here.