New York, I Love You Review

If you've seen Paris, je t'aime, you would know the basic concept of New York, I Love You. Some of the world's celebrated filmmakers create short tales of romance based in a metropolitan city, compiled in an anthology film. The stories stand on their own, but connected together by the common theme of love and the mood of its location.

What's different—and consequently better—about New York, I Love You is that the individual stories are interconnected, to illustrate a web of people that links New Yorkers in unexpected ways. It could be that two strangers hail the same cab, or go to the same Chinese laundromat, or know the same pharmacist. Furthering these links is Emilie Ohana, playing a video artist who circles the city with a video camera and continually runs into the other characters.

Unlike the segmented and showcasey Paris, je t'aime, this film is much more fluid. It arranges itself well, jumping from story to story with actual transitional scenes or very brief meet-ups between characters rather than just fading in and out. It may not have Paris' household names like Coen Brothers, Gus Van Sant or Wes Craven, but that's why the films don't have the sense of competition. For the most part, they compliment each other. With the sole exception of Brett Ratner—who, not surprisingly, made the worst short of the bunch; a crass teen comedy based on his own virgin-no-more story that ends in a moronic twist—the names involved in New York are more arthouse friendly, hence the more sparing feel.

The film's opening story stars Hayden Christensen as a cocky pickpocket. The short is passable enough, but Christensen is as wooden as ever and even adopts a laughably bizarre Noo Yawk accent, certainly kicking things off on the wrong foot. Thankfully, the other young actors performed. In the segment by Shunji Iwai (All About Lily Chou-Chou), Orlando Bloom is cool as a sleep-deprived composer of anime films who falls for a production assistant he knows only by phone, voiced by Christina Ricci. Most surprising is Shia LaBeouf’s fantastic turn as a humpbacked Russian bellhop in a painfully morose segment written by the late Anthony Minghella and directed by Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth: The Golden Age). Shia steals the short even when playing alongside greats like John Hurt and Julie Christie. Asked to act with his face rather than his usual rapid-fire mouth, Shia has never been this emotionally engaging before. It’s by far his best performance to date.

Natalie Portman, who starred in Paris je t’aime’s best segment, returns here as both actor and filmmaker, first starring in Mira Nair’s wistful segment as an Orthodox Jewish bride-to-be who develops forbidden feelings for a Jain jeweler, played by the always welcome Irrfan Khan. Later, Portman writes and directs my favorite short; a simple story of ballet dancer Carlos Acosta taking care of a little girl at a day in the park. Because of their mismatch skin, people assume he’s her “manny,” but is he?

The difference between Paris and New York is made obvious by the differences between the two films. Whereas the filmmakers in Paris, je t’aime use the city to inspire the love stories in their short films—it is, after all, the city of romance—the ones in New York, I Love You seem to be more in love with the city itself.

“This is what I love about New York,” says Robin Wright Penn to Chris Cooper outside a restaurant. As she says this, we hear a gunshot and sirens in the background, but the two never even react to them. She notes the buildings that box them in, the street corner, the view into strangers' apartments. We get the sense that she’s talking about New York as a beloved ant farm that allows the hustle and bustle of the metropolis to affect and guide relationships. The film mimics her sentiment. By interspersing the segments together, we are given quick cutouts of life in the Big Apple, with all its immensely diverse culture and endless supply of interesting people.

The shorts themselves may not be anything brilliant or even noteworthy individually, but pieced together it forms a pleasant ode to America’s behemoth melting pot.

"New York, I Love You" opens October 16, 2009 and is rated R. Comedy, Drama, Romance. Directed by Allen Hughes, Brett Ratner, Fatih Akin, Jiang Wen, Joshua Marston, Mira Nair, Natalie Portman, Randy Balsmeyer, Shekhar Kapur, Shunji Iwai, Yvan Attal. Written by Jiang Wen, Hu Hong & Meng Yao, Suketu Mehta, Shunji Iwai, Oliver Lecot, Jeff Nathanson, Xan Cassavetes and Stephen Winter, Anthony Minghella, Natalie Portman, Faith Akin, Joshua Marston, Hall Powell and Israel Horovitz & James Strouse. Starring Andy Garcia, Anton Yelchin, Blake Lively, Bradley Cooper, Burt Young, Carlos Acosta, Chris Cooper, Christina Ricci, Cloris Leachman, Drea De Matteo, Eli Wallach, Emilie Ohana, Ethan Hawke, Eva Amurri, Hayden Christensen, Irrfan Khan, Jacinda Barrett, James Caan, John Hurt, Julie Chirstie, Justin Bartha, Maggie Q, Natalie Portman, Olivia Thirlby, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson, Robin Wright Penn, Shia LaBeouf, Shu Qi, Taylor Geare, Ugur Yucel.

Oct
16
2009
Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for Artboiled.com.

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