New York, I Love You, the second in an intended series of omnibus films (Paris, Je T’Aime was the first) called Cities of Love, is a collection of 11 shorts and one wrap-around segment, each directed by a different filmmaker in two days, that interweaves the backdrop of New York City into some sort of anecdote dealing with love.
The result, as is always the case with short story collections, is a mixed bag, although unlike Paris Je T’Aime, the duds outnumber the winners this time. Part of the reason is that while the roster of directors in Paris included Alfonso Cuaron, Alexander Payne, the Coen brothers and Gus Van Sant, the filmmakers behind New York, I Love You generally skew younger and less experienced. This results in stories that are often more trivial and banal than entrancing.
Surprisingly, the film’s high note is struck by Brett Ratner, whose Hollywood career (Red Dragon, Family Man, X-Men: The Last Stand) has not always been celebrated by critics. His tale about a young man (Anton Yelchin) who agrees to take the daughter of his pharmacist (James Caan) to the prom sight unseen results in a funny and surprising story perfectly suited to the confines of a short narrative.
Also memorable is director Yvan Attal’s ditty about two strangers (Ethan Hawke and Maggie Q) who strike up a conversation while smoking a cigarette outside a restaurant, a scenario later reprised by another pair of diners (Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn) who step outside for a nicotine fix. That premise will be familiar to any smoker who has ever lived in New York, and Attal follows both anecdotes to their not-quite-expected resolutions.
A lot of the shorts in New York, I Love You encapsulate the benefits that make living in the harsh city so worthwhile, from the way in which you are forced to interact with different cultures and religions on a daily basis to how even a minor random encounter can lead to life-changing consequences. But too many of the tales here are either obvious to the point of boredom — like Mira Nair’s riff on the unexpected bond between an Indian diamond vendor (Irrfan Khan) and a Hasidic Jew (Natalie Portman) about to wed — or precious to the point of irrelevance, like Jiang Wen’s look at a thief (Hayden Christensen) who meets his match (Andy Garcia) while courting a young woman (Rachel Bilson).
Some of the shorts in New York, I Love You cross over into pretentious territory, most notably Shekhar Kapur’s segment, a would-be melancholy tale about a former opera singer (Julie Christie) and her bellhop (Shia LaBeouf). Others are just plain bad: Allen Hughes’ look at a couple (Drea De Matteo and Bradley Cooper) nervously contemplating a second date after a one-night stand is the only tale to make use of the New York subway system, but there’s no telling the short from a first-year film school student’s work. The structure of New York, I Love You guarantees that if you don’t like the movie you’re watching, a new one will begin just a few minutes later. But the city can only dash your hopes so many times before you decide to move back to Kansas or Nevada — anywhere but here.
Cast: Hayden Christensen, Andy Garcia, Rachel Bilson, Natalie Portman, Irrfan Khan, Orlando Bloom, Christina Ricci, Ethan Hawke, Maggie Q, Chris Cooper, Robin Wright Penn, Anton Yelchin, James Caan, Olivia Thirlby, Drea De Matteo, Bradley Cooper, Julie Christie, John Hurt, Shia LaBeouf, Taylor Geare, Carlos Acosta, Ugur Yucel, Eli Wallack, Cloris Leachman, Emilie Ohana.
Directors: Jiang Wen, Mira Nair, Shunji Iwai, Yvan Attal, Brett Ratner, Allen Hughes, Shekhar Kapur, Natalie Portman, Fatih Akin, Joshua Marston, Randy Balsmeyer.
Producers: Emmanuel Benbihy, Marina Grasic.
A Vivendi Entertainment release. Running time: 103 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations. In Miami-Dade: Intracoastal; in Broward: Gateway; in Palm Beach: Mizner Park.