New York, I Love You -- Film Review

Directed by: Various, Runtime: 103 minutes
Grade: C+

Paris, Je T'aime is a charming homage to the City of Lights, an anthology film that emphasizes each segment as viewing the city through varied, enamored eyes -- and it's proud of that fact. A sense of anticipation permeates the picture, allowing us to ponder how the likes of the Cohen Brothers, Wes Craven, and Tom Tykwer will integrate their zeal for the city into a collage of love, heartbreak, and everyday activity. It's this enthusiasm for the original that sparked New York, I Love You, the second of a presupposed series of metropolitan love-letters in their "Cities of Love" series; however, the love shown to the Big Apple is more self-seeking -- and oddly dissatisfying -- than the warm draw of Paris, Je T'aime.

Part of what makes New York, I Love You different from its predecessor is a shift from segmented visions to one grand, sweeping painting of the town's hustle 'n bustle, which takes the anthology's segmented style and strings them all together into an interconnected row of dominoes. That's, sadly, part of the beauty of the first picture, taking each of the director's talents and capturing the city in their eyes, which is something that's shoved aside in lieu of forced connectivity here. Characters reappear throughout this odd-handed connected slew of people -- painters, writers, senior citizens, prostitutes, Jewish jewelry brokers, smokers, and one-night-standers -- and it all comes together in a somewhat sweet composition, but otherwise woefully ho-hum and a little pompous.

There are a few stories that steer away from the grand scheme of things, standing on their own legs as well-built individual stories. Mira Nair's segment, which finds a soon-to-be-married Jewish diamond broker (Natalie Portman) haggling with an Indian exchange merchant on 47th Street, ensnares her capacity to render beautifully emotional banter within elegant cinematography and musical accompaniment. Fatih Akin's portrait of a dying artist who has found his muse, a reluctantly bashful Chinese herbalist, compels with its sense of hope surrounding the search for artistic expression. Probably the most cohesive and sweetly tender out of the bunch, Shunji Iwai's story of a struggling musician (Orlando Bloom) tossing flirty back-and-forths with his boss' assistant (later revealed to be Christina Ricci) satisfies on a cutesy, somewhat reflexive level. And, riding there at the end, Joshua Marston's piece featuring two bickering older people, played with grace by Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman, is a charmer.

The rest of the segments in New York, I Love You -- including the cheeky, bland transitions directed by Brett Ratner -- fail to find either a meeting of the minds or mold into a satisfying mosaic of the town. Ratner also directs a rom-com segment that covers a mousy, recently dumped boy (Anton Yelchin) who's agreed to take the daughter (Olivia Thirlby) of a pharmacist (James Caan) to his high-school prom -- only later learning that she's in a wheelchair. His direction is unsure and sloppy, hamming up all of the performances into more of a ridiculous nuisance than an eccentricity. Conversely, Shekhar Kapur takes up where the recently-deceased Anthony Minghella would've directed in a segment about a suicidal woman (Julie Christie) and her conversations with a young Russian immigrant (Shia LeBouf). Its obscurity, along with an unclear existential conclusion, takes it far away from the core essence of the picture, not to mention a foreign turn from LeBouf that's laughable.

Oddly, much of the picture also follows a similar visual design, draped in dark contrast and a persistent amber coating, which neuters the creative potential in New York, I Love You. As mentioned before, some of the standalone stories work well outside of the attempt at a seamless six-degrees-of-separation dynamic, and these sequences are photographed with a higher appeal than the others -- such as the gorgeous cinematography in Mira Nair's segment, which echoes her signature close-ups and vying green shades within the image. Emphasis falls on the few, assorted high points in this assembly because of their unintentional standout design, but the bad part of it is that wishy-washy enamored energy just falls flat. It might navigate us through the subways, alleys, loft apartments and smoky streetsides, but it's more about being pleased with its blunt, stereotypical aesthetic than really drawing us into the allure of the Big Apple.

New York, I Love You contains work from the following directors: Fatih Akin, Yvan Attal, Randall Balsmeyer, Allen Hughes, Shunji Iwai, Jiang Wen, Shekhar Kapur, Joshua Marston, Mira Nair, Natalie Portman, and Brett Ratner. Segments from Scarlett Johansson and Andrei Zvyagintsev didn't make it in the final cut, but are available in the special features of the home video presentations.


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