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Originally published Thursday, November 3, 2011 at 3:01 PM

Movie review

Fran Lebowitz funny in 'Public Speaking' doc

Fran Lebowitz talks and talks in the Martin Scorsese documentary, "Public Speaking," which is deliciously funny. The film is playing at the Northwest Film Forum, in Seattle, through Thursday, Nov. 10.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3.5 stars

'Public Speaking,' a documentary directed by Martin Scorsese. 82 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Northwest Film Forum, through Thursday.

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Ensconced in a red-upholstered booth below a mural (featuring herself) at New York's Waverly Inn, Fran Lebowitz says she's not a risk taker and that as a kid, she didn't understand why other kids climbed trees. She quickly learned the art of distraction: "If I say something funny," Lebowitz says, recalling her thought process, "they won't notice I'm on the lowest branch of the tree."

For the 82 delicious minutes of Martin Scorsese's documentary "Public Speaking," Lebowitz talks — mostly from that Waverly booth, but also in excerpts from filmed interviews. And it's all funny, so much so that you won't notice that it's pretty much an entire movie of one talking head: "My Dinner with Andre," minus one. The woman who calls herself "the outstanding waster of time of my generation" has a slim résumé: two hilarious, best-selling collections of essays ("Metropolitan Life" and "Social Studies," published in 1978 and 1981 respectively); a children's book; an occasional magazine piece; a novel long unfinished. Lebowitz says she suffers from writer's block so severe it's better described as "writer's blockade."

But oh, can she talk. Speaking with the rasp of a longtime smoker (which she unapologetically is), Lebowitz holds forth on topics ranging from New York in the '70s, the idea of fame, Lebowitz's stint as a judge on TV's "Law & Order" ("my dream job"), gay marriage, her childhood struggle to learn to tell time and what it's like to know everything. ("Really pleasurable," in case you were wondering.) We learn that Lebowitz makes her living these days addressing college audiences around the country.

"And now, I'm going to answer questions from the audience in an entertaining fashion," she says, on one such occasion included in the film; a modern-day Oscar Wilde in her starched white shirts, letting the students — and us — savor the bon mots as they fly. "Public Speaking" is an ode to the art of conversation, and it's a delight.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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