New York, I Love You
- Directed by Fatih Akin, Yvan Attal, Allen Hughes, Shunji Iwai, Wen Jiang, Joshua Marston, Mira Nair, Natalie Portman, Brett Ratner, Randall Balsmeyer, Shekhar Kapur
- Starring Bradley Cooper, Shia LaBeouf, Orlando Bloom, Chris Cooper, Andy Garcia, Christina Ricci, Robin Wright Penn, Julie Christie, Ethan Hawke, etc.
- Classification: 14A
New York, I Love You , the second instalment in the Cities of Love series of multinarrative features which began with Paris, je t'aime (2006), never adds up to more than the sum of its parts. But its all-star cast, inspired cadre of directors from all over the world and dollops of humour, passion and pathos make it accomplished light entertainment that keeps the viewer engaged throughout.
The theme is broadly defined here, each of the 11 stories portraying some kind of love connection and unfolding within 48 hours, over several hours or, in a few cases, just the length of a memorable, flirtatious conversation.
The viewer is kept oriented in time and space by transition sequences following a young French-American video artist (Emilie Ohana) shooting around town over two days (incidentally, the length of time each director had to shoot his or her segment). Directed by title-sequence wizard Randy Balsmeyer, the transitions culminate in a finale that, unfortunately, detracts from the emotional power of the individual stories by turning them into fragments of a video-art collage.
All of the participating directors - save Balsmeyer and actor Natalie Portman - are known for features. So part of the interest is seeing how the short form puts their strengths, weaknesses, thematic interests or styles into sharp focus.
Israeli-born, French actor-director Yvan Attal creates a pure thespian showcase all about effective casting, dialogue and chemistry. Two similar but contrasting scenes (separated in the film's timeline) involve a pair of strangers grabbing a quick smoke outside a restaurant - possibly the film's most "universal" setting. In the first scene, Ethan Hawke plays a charming but aggressive, hat-wearing writer who wastes no time launching into his pulp romance-worthy description of what he would like to do to the coolly amused Maggie Q. In the second, Robin Wright Penn plays a woman bent on getting a rise out of Chris Cooper's bemused businessman before they both butt out and return to their respective spouses.
Not surprisingly, most of the stories are chatty, but not all put their romantic "pairs" face-to-face. Japanese director Shunji Iwai charts the evolving, over-the-phone connection between an angst-ridden animation composer (a scruffy Orlando Bloom) on deadline and the director's supportive, friendly assistant (Christina Ricci). Allen Hughes ( Menace II Society , From Hell ) makes what amounts to an extended perfume commercial, starring hottie Bradley Cooper and Drea de Matteo as lovers hurtling toward a second date, their voice-over thoughts revealing insecurities and flashbacks revealing the intensity of their first encounter.
Natalie Portman does double duty. She plays a Hasidic bride-to-be haggling over diamonds with a devout Jain seller (Irrfan Khan) in Mira Nair's sexy story of unexpected flirtation, which is somewhat spoiled by overly sentimental afterthought scenes. Portman also directs a beautifully shot, but "student film-ish" story about a kid spending a fun New York day with a character we are to assume is her "manny" (male nanny).
All the segments contain a "punchline" moment that feels like a full stop, a weakness inherent in taking a collective approach to multinarrative story-telling. Only Turkish-born German director Fatih Akin ( Head On ), in his story of a gruff artist (Ugur Yucel) who finds his muse in a Chinatown herbalist shop, dares to create a turning point instead, one that suggests a whole story about to unfold. (This is a quality of his acclaimed feature films.)
Producer Emmanuel Benbihy, who dreamed up the Cities of Love concept, has Rio, Shanghai, Jerusalem and Mumbai in his sights. New York, I Love You and its predecessor are a guilty pleasure that will not last. Best to consider alternative approaches to the collective effort - one screenwriter or one active central character who appears in each story, perhaps.
Otherwise, the series may become high-concept travel porn.
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