What's a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? is an absurd but arty comedy short. Director Scorsese mixes full motion video with stills, which sometimes do stand-ins for scenes—like protagonist Zeph Michaelis marrying Nice Girl Mimi Stark—sometimes just for expository stuff. See, Michaelis is a writer who gets a new studio apartment and can’t write because you can’t do even a nine minute short about a writer who can write. He becomes obsessed with a photograph he purchases and loses the ability to function normally. He just stares at the photograph.
Sadly, the photograph isn’t great. It’s a composite so Scorsese can manipulate it for narrative mileage, but even still… it’s not even compelling enough for poser Michaelis to fall in love with it.
Michaelis narrates most of the short; when he disappears in the last few minutes, it’s not initially a bad thing. Michaelis’s narration doesn’t make the character any more likable or amusing. It just keeps him around, because it’s his movie. But for the end to work, his narration’s got to go. Scorsese pulls it off like a Bandaid, refocusing attention on Michaelis’s friend, Fred Sica, who’s essentially a character witness for Michaelis. Right after Scorsese’s got this nice move of Sica repeating—word for word—Michaelis’s psychiatrist’s advice… the ending flops.
Scorsese’s intent is obvious and not aimed high at all; it’s an absurd but arty short, after all. Scorsese just isn’t able to get there with the script. It’s not funny. Occasionally, Nice Girl is rather well-made, lots of the still montages are beautifully edited—courtesy Robert Hunsicker—but it’s never funny enough when it needs to be. Scorsese can’t land the absurdist jokes; there’s one about Michaelis having a multi-day party in his efficiency. It’s a real, please laugh moment, ruining the serious filmmaking presumably going on.
But the lead up to ending with Sica repeating analyst Sarah Braveman? It’s cool. It’d be a save if the ending itself weren’t so… goony. Obvious and goony.
Cute cat and awesome King Kong reference though.