Told in an electric, fragmented fashion (originally shot on 16mm film and digitally blown-up) "Urbania" draws viewers into the fascinating but edgy world of Charlie (Dan Futterman), who wanders the grim city streets visiting old friends (including Alan Cumming and Matt Keeslar) and making dubious new ones, including a lucky bartender and a daytime soap opera star. A lingering eerieness follows Charlie on his journey and gradually he becomes aware of an increasing weirdness that colors the events he experiences, so that he--and we--aren't sure exactly what is real or what isn't. Sharing Charlie's private twilight zone are a cocky and blithe kidney thief, an unfortunate French poodle and a familiar tattooed stranger. Charlie's growing obsession with the stranger leads to a startling and shattering confrontation and strangely optimistic conclusion that force an entire re-evaluation of what had come before.
Shear, who co-wrote the screenplay with Daniel Reitz from his play "Urban Folk Tales," succeeds in making "Urbania" fresh and alive by keeping the skewed action primarily from Charlie's point of view, coyly adding an element of mystery. The "is-it-real-or-isn't-it?" dynamic never overwhelms the story, but rather serves as a heightened reflection of Charlie's bewildered state of mind. The gritty harshness of urban life likewise intensifies Charlie's confusion and sense of alienation, yet in reality the action could take place in any city.
A nominee for the Grand Jury Prize at this year's Sundance festival and winner of Best First Feature at the San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, "Urbania" proves that there are still new and exciting ways to tell old tales and that daring filmmakers are still out there. Starring Dan Futterman, Alan Cumming, Matt Keeslar and Josh Hamilton. Directed by Jon Shear. Written by Jon Shear and Daniel Reitz. Produced by Stephanie Golden, Jon Shear and J. Todd Harris. A Lions Gate release. Drama. Rated R for strong violent and sexual content, including related dialogue, and for language and some drug use. Running time: 105 min.