On the heels of 2007’s star-studded, multi-directorial indie film Paris, je t'aime (Paris, I Love You), is the inevitable American follow-up, this time set in New York City and aptly titled New York, I Love You.
New York, I Love You features 11 short segments about love, lovers, loving, etc., all with beautiful New York City as a backdrop. But this is not the New York City with which I am familiar, the melting pot, where just walking on the sidewalk one is bound to encounter a multitude of languages and skin colors. No, this NYC is almost 100 percent white and straight.
The film’s first segment, set in Chinatown and directed by Chinese actor-turned-director Jiang Wen, stars Hayden Christensen, who can’t act his way out of a paper bag and thus overacts in this role. Christensen plays a pickpocket, and Rachel Bilson plays a cute co-ed. Christensen’s character tries to pick up on Bilson’s; the dialogue is choppy and the acting is subpar (from Christensen). The saving grace is an intimidating Andy Garcia, who shows up in the latter half of the segment to show what real acting is all about, stealing both the scene and Bilson’s character.
Segment two, set in the Diamond District and directed by Mira Nair, is about an Indian diamond seller (Irrfan Khan) and a Hasidic almost-newlywed (Natalie Portman) who transact business while tentatively flirting (as much as their respective religious beliefs will allow). When they part, the ensuing fantasy left me full of both longing and bittersweet happiness.
My favorite segment, by Japanese director Shunji Iwai, involves Orlando Bloom as a neurotic film composer, and Christina Ricci, who plays his boss’s assistant, as an open-hearted friend. By far, this segment delivers the most promise of love and hope.
Smoking is the vehicle for two Yvan Attal-directed segments in which a pair chat while out for a smoke. The first segment stars a smarmy, jabbering Ethan Hawke playing — what else? — a writer engaged in an intense yet superficially casual conversation with Maggie Q. Hawke does what he does best here, delivering crude dialogue at a quick pace. Maggie Q holds her own and, eventually calls his bluff. The second Attal segment involves Robin Wright and Chris Cooper. After the reveal at the end of the latter segment, a great twist (even if I was half expecting it or something like it), I had to go back and listen to the dialogue between Wright and Cooper again, as it can be interpreted two entirely different ways.
No story about New York would be complete without a piece set in Central Park, and Brett Ratner directs a bevy of talented actors (James Caan, Anton Yelchin, Olivia Thirlby, Blake Lively) with the park as a backdrop. While this segment’s reveal elicited a chuckle from me, I found the concept more crass than amusing.
Allen Hughes directs Bradley Cooper and Drea de Matteo in a segment that, although the dialogue is 99 percent voice over, works well, getting inside the heads of a pair who are separately trying to decide whether or not to follow up on a wild and sexy one-night stand.
Greenwich Village is the backdrop for a segment directed by Shekhar Kapur starring Julie Christie, John Hurt, and a very miscast Shia LaBeouf (am I really supposed to believe his baby face is that tortured?), in what is the most obvious tear-jerker of the bunch but seems out of place in this film.
A standout segment, directed by Natalie Portman, who also wrote the piece, stars Taylor Geare as a young girl left in the charge of Carlos Acosta. Although my first assumptions were validated by the end of the vignette, it had a nice, albeit small, twist.
German director Fatih Akin heads back to Chinatown, where an older artist (Ugur Yucel) and his muse (Shu Qi) cross paths.
Rounding out the film, Brighton Beach is the backdrop of a segment directed by Joshua Mastron starring major acting talents Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman, who play an old married couple out for a squabble and a walk.
With a running time of 110 minutes, New York, I Love You is rated R. Extras include trailers, bonus segments (one directed and written by Scarlett Johansson and starring Kevin Bacon, and the other written and directed by Andrei Zvyagintsev); and director interviews with Ratner, Attal, Mastron, Nair, and Iwai. The director interviews address the parameters with which they had to work (a 6-7 minute short with a 6-7 page script), as well as the transition between feature length films and “back to film school” short directing. One quirky director never even shows herself on camera and instead lets storyboards tell her story.
While there's no doubt New York, I Love You boasts an all-star cast and crew, it lacks diversity and depth, and, other than two great short segments, underdelivers on its promise of love in the Big City.