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New York, I Love You
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Manhattan Melodramas"
2 stars

A couple of years ago, an enterprising producer by the name of Emmanuel Benbihy hit upon the idea of commissioning a number of world-renowned directors (including the Coen Brothers, Olivier Assayas, Gus Van Sant and Alexander Payne) to each make a short film that was set in one of the neighborhoods of Paris and which had something to do with the subject of love. The result, “Paris, Je t’aime,” was much like most of the other films of this type that have appeared over the years--a couple of the segments were wonderful, a couple were downright awful and the rest fell somewhere between those two extremes--but the combination of an easy-to-grasp premise and a host of well-known participants on both sides of the camera helped to make it a minor hit on the art-house circuit. As a result, Benbihy decided to replicate the formula with a new group of directors and with the Big Apple as the new background but even by the hit-and-miss standards of this particular subgenre, “New York, I Love You” is a major disappointment. You know you are in a bad omnibus film when it turns out that uber-hack Brett Ratner is one of the auteurs chosen to participate. You know that you are in a really bad omnibus film when it turns out that Ratner’s contribution is actually one of the better ones on display.

Each of the different stories is approximately eight minutes long, untitled and generally do not overlap at all. Jiang Wen kicks things off with a tale featuring Hayden Christensen as a smarmy pickpocket who first grabs Andy Garcia‘s wallet and then tries to do the same with his mistress, Rachel Bilson. Mira Nair is up next with a story in which about-to-be-married Hasidic diamond merchant Natalie Portman has a business encounter with Arab gem dealer Iffran Khan that has a profound impact on her. Orlando Bloom stars in Shunji Iwai’s segment as a music composer on a tight deadline who is encouraged to complete his task by the voice of Christina Ricci. Yvan Attal’s segment features Ethan Hawke as a fast-talking arty type laying an elaborate line of patter on Maggie Q in order to lay her until she simply and effectively stops him cold with only a couple of words. In the aforementioned segment from Ratner, high schooler Anton Yelchin has just been dumped by girlfriend Blake Lively on the eve of the prom and is coaxed by druggist James Caan to take daughter Olivia Thirlby instead--as it turns out, she has a couple of big surprises up her sleeves. Allen Hughes presents us with Drea de Matteo and Bradley Cooper as the participants of an unexpected one-night stand as they go off to meet again, ostensibly to tell each other that their previous encounter was a mistake.

Making her directorial debut, Natalie Portman does double-duty with a story about the bond that grows between a young girl and the male nanny who is essentially raising her. In a segment that was originally scheduled to be directed by the late Anthony Minghella and which was taken over by Shekhar Kapur, Julie Christie plays a legendary opera singer who checks into an ornate hotel in order to kill herself until she finds herself oddly taken by a mildly crippled bellhop played by a bizarrely accented Shia LaBeouf. Fatih Atkin gives us a tale of a lonely artist (Ugur Yucel) who becomes obsessed with capturing the image of a woman (Shu Qi) that he encounters in Chinatown. Attal returns for an encore with another long conversation between two strangers with a twist in the end--Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn play the roles this time around. Finally, Joshua Marston gives us Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman as a bickering old couple making a journey to Coney Island. To provide transitions between some of these, we are occasionally treated to some enigmatic moments with enigmatic filmmaker Emilie Ohana enigmatically shooting enigmatic video images of the enigmatic world around her, or at least as enigmatic as one can get when Ethan Hawke and Bradley Cooper are involved.

Although it would be foolish to expect any individual masterpieces to emerge from a film of this type, you would think that something interesting might have developed with this combination of talent on both sides of the camera. As it is, only the contributions from Ratner, Hughes and Marston make any lasting impact--the first because it is at least somewhat lively and energetic, the second because of its interesting visual style and the strong performance from de Matteo and the last because Wallach and Leachman are the kind of canny veteran performers who can sell even the slightest material. As for the others, Jiang’s is a bit of silliness that gets everything off on the wrong foot and Nair’s boring follow-up further drags things down. Neither one of Attal’s contributions really works--the former is a complete disaster thanks to an extraordinarily annoying performance by Ethan Hawke and the latter, while featuring nice work from Cooper and Penn, is done in by a twist ending that is way too obvious. In her first try behind the camera, Natalie Portman proves that if she ever wants to give up her day job, her bland work her demonstrates that she may have a future in directing greeting card commercials. Atkin’s segment is a drag that is useful only in the sense that it gives us conclusive that Shu Qi is one of the most heart-stoppingly beautiful women in the world and that Burt Young is still alive. However, the booby prize of the bunch goes to the utterly inexplicable disaster from Kapur--although it is always a treat to watch the increasingly regal Christie in one of her increasingly rare performances (and she does her best under the circumstances), her efforts are undone by a story that feels haphazardly thrown together and features a performance by LaBeouf, equipped with a broad accent of indeterminate origin, that is so jaw-droppingly bad that it almost, but not quite, needs to be seen to be believed.

That said, the strangest thing about “New York, I Love You” is how distant it feels as a whole from the city that supposedly inspired it. With the Paris movie, you at least got the sense that the filmmakers were intrigued in capturing the various facets and rhythms of the various neighborhoods of the city in their individual tales. Here, none of the filmmakers seem especially interested in New York City as a whole and, for the most part, have chosen to tell tales that, quite frankly, could have been located in virtually any major city without losing much of anything--only the Hughes contribution tries to utilize the city as an important part of the proceedings and it is all the better because of that. As for the rest, they all, aside from the one in Coney Island, take place within the borders of a version that has been so cleansed of minorities for the most part that it makes a typical Woody Allen film look like an M.I.A. video by comparison and most of those take place within the confines of apartments, hotels or restaurants that further isolate viewers from the beat of the city. (At times, the relationship between the city and the film becomes so tenuous that you get the feeling that it should change its title to “New York, It Isn’t You--It’s Me--But We Can Still Be Friends.”) Even more mystifying is the insistence of most of the directors to cast people who have little to no association with the city--when actors like James Caan and Drea de Matteo come up, their mere presences add some much-needed juice to the proceedings because they come across as born-and-bred denizens of the area.

Watching “New York, I Love You” is like being a judge of the short subject competition at a second-tier film festival and trying to find something kind to say about the subpar selections. Of course, the shorts on display at such festivals are usually of a slightly higher quality than much of what is on display here, which is more on the level of the kind of filler material that you sometimes see in the wee hours of the morning on cable channels that you didn’t know you received with your package. That said, I guess there is one good thing that you can say about the film. You know how when you are watching an anthology movie and you suffer the frustration of being zapped from one storyline, good or bad, to the next and you wish that there was a way that you could somehow spend more time with the more engrossing ones? In the case of “New York, I Love You,” that is the very least of its problems.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17916&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/16/09 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/06/13 Monday Morning Several segments of this film were really beautiful and well-made. 4 stars
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  16-Oct-2009 (R)
  DVD: 02-Feb-2010


  DVD: 02-Feb-2010

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