New York, I Love YouWritten and directed by a whole lot of peopleStarring Shia LaBeouf, Chris Cooper, Natalie Portman and many other famous peopleRated R*6*Goes well with: Paris, Je T'aime; Slacker; 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould
“This is the capitol of everything possible.” That's a line a cabbie delivers in New York, I Love You, and he's right. If you've spent any time at all in the Big Apple, you know it's an epic place, a living, breathing city trying simultaneously to beat you down and build you up, every single day of the year. It's a place of intensity and overstimulation, of unbelievable unfairness, dramatic cruelty and absolute generosity. It's only natural that the creators of Paris, Je T'aime would focus their lens on New York.
So, here's the deal: This is a film made up of short films about love in, and of, New York. The precursor featured short pieces from scads of French directors, as well as Americans such as the Coen brothers, Wes Craven, Gus Van Sant and Alexander Payne. It was an interesting, innovative idea, a love letter to Paris and to love itself. Of course, doing a sequel (and a third is on the way) requires capturing the same lightning in a bottle, albeit with different filmmakers, and though the faces on screen are famous, they don't, collectively, have the same gravitas as those who appeared in the Paris edition.
But do they pull it off? Sometimes. The very nature of a project like this is that it's going to be uneven. Some of the shorts are terrific, some of them try too hard and some simply aren't memorable. Of course, New York is full of high-profile actors dying for a prestige piece like this. After all, it's got art-house cred and offers a nice showcase, and you have to work on it only for a few days. So it's always cool to see who decided to take what kind of part. At the same time, it means you're going to be subjected to greasy hipsters like Ethan Hawke, Hayden Christensen and Orlando Bloom, all of whom cultivate a too-cool persona that is virtually identical, whether the character is a thief, a musician or a writer. But there are terrific little performances from wily vets like Chris Cooper, Julie Christie and Irrfan Khan.
There are moments that stand out, like the second half of the piece directed by Yvan Attal, essentially about the relationships forced upon smokers thrust out into the cold New York by Mayor Michael Bloomberg's restaurant smoking ban. Suddenly, Cooper and Robin Wright Penn share a moment, a flame and a very intimate flirt in what seems a chance meeting.
Natalie Portman, who had a part in the Paris version, stars in Mira Nair's short as a Hasidic diamond broker who has an eye-opening encounter with her Arab counterpart (Khan, the veteran Bollywooder who starred in Nair's The Namesake and who played the cop in last year's Slumdog Millionaire) just before her wedding day. Portman also wrote and directed one of the segments, about a beautiful little white girl (Taylor Geare) and a Dominican man at the park (Cesar de Leon) who appears to be her manny (man + nanny). Like many of the films, the ending has an obvious twist, but it's a twist that, at the very least, is pleasant. And strangely, Brett Ratner, whom I find a particularly uninteresting director, turns in a nice little piece with Anton Yelchin, James Caan and Olivia Thirlby that sets itself apart by not taking itself too seriously.
But the question is, really, whether these films would stand on their own. Most of them would, but that doesn't make them interesting. It's apropos that the whole is stronger than the sum of its parts, because that's representational of what New York truly is, an amazing place made up of moments that are divine, mundane and wretched. Of course, that's real life—it's up to you to decide if you want your movies the same way.
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