To many Americans — millions, really — the name Fran Lebowitz doesn’t mean much. But in certain precincts, vital to the cultural functioning of both coasts, she is famously a friend, a crank, a climber, a cautionary tale, an iconoclast and a mouth. In “Public Speaking,” Martin Scorsese’s enormously enjoyable and perceptive documentary about her, Ms. Lebowitz’s endearing narcissism is a study in the notion that arrogance and insecurity are largely two sides of the same cocktail coaster.
The film, to be shown Monday on HBO, has its subject delivering her opinions for 85 minutes, mostly from a booth at the Waverly Inn, the West Village restaurant co-owned by Graydon Carter, one of the film’s producers and the editor of Vanity Fair. Known for a writer’s block that has continued almost unimpeded for three decades, Ms. Lebowitz occupies a shaky career category: professional wit. She has made a living out of talking, primarily lecturing on college campuses, where she presents herself as an emissary from the world of urbanity, telling the young how it is now, and how much better it was then.