Review: New York, I Love You

New York, I Love You (2008)
Hayden Christensen, Andy Garcia, Rachel Bilson, Natalie Portman, Irrfan Khan, Orlando Bloom, Christina Ricci, Maggie Q, Ethan Hawke, Chris Cooper, Robin Wright, Anton Yelchin, James Caan, Olivia Thirlby, Blake Lively, Bradley Cooper, Drea de Matteo, Julie Christie, John Hurt, Shia LaBeouf, Burt Young, Shu Qi, and a few others. Directed by Jiang Wen, Mira Nair, Shunji Iwai, Yvan Attal, Brett Ratner, Allen Hughes, Shekhar Kapur, Natalie Portman, Fatih Akin, and Joshua Marston.

nyily2New York, I Love You is the second (of three, so far) in the Cities of Love series, preceded memorably by Paris, je t’aime and succeeded forgettably by Rio, I Love You. It is a good place for it in the chronological order, for if the series ends now, it will be the little downward-pointing bridge between the first and third films, the down staircase in the devolution of a great idea.

nyily1The concept of several short films by different directors, featuring different actors, with the loosely unifying theme of love is translocated to another great city that celebrates and destroys love in all its shapes and colors: New York, where there is a broken heart for every light, and all that. Although I’m about as personally knowledgeable about the Big Apple as I am the City of Lights, because I’m an American and I’ve seen a movie or two, I feel qualified to say that the stories in the first film seem to have emerged from the Paris’s many alleys and stages, while the stories in this second installment could have taken place in almost any city in the country.

nyily3This is a huge disappointment that could have been allayed by vignettes that deliver the promised goods. And they give it a good shot. Consider:

  • A Hasidic jeweler (Natalie Portman) and an Indian diamond merchant exchange barbs about the product they’re about to buy and sell, a give-and-take that leads to complaints about their respective religions and an unspoken sympathy.
  • A film composer (Orlando Bloom) works against a deadline, but the film’s director demands he read Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment for inspiration before he puts the music together. He complains to the director’s assistant (Christina Ricci), who offers support, and he is too stressed to receive it as anything more than the gesture of a sympathetic co-worker.
  • Ethan Hawke, playing whatever you’d call the opposite of against type, puts moves on a beautiful Maggie Q, who is unimpressed while Hawke explains what he would do to rock her world.
  • Robin Wright steps out of the restaurant where she’s dining with her husband. She bums a cigarette from Chris Cooper, standing on the sidewalk outside. She complains about all the ways marriage has become a disappointment, comparing it with the excitement of one-night stands.

nyily4There’s a lot of potential here, and while the majority of the eleven short films is fairly satisfying, none inspires a real wow, none really hits you in the gut in the manner of several chapters in Paris, je t’aime.  A few, like the Hasidic jeweler scene and a Fatih Akin scene involving an aging painter and a Chinese herbalist, deliver some nice, romantic arrows to the heart, but most don’t swing hard enough for the fences, eliciting more of a “that’s nice” than a “holy moly.”

I don’t fault the actors, most of whom find some really good notes in their short times on screen. I especially like Robin Wright, Chris Cooper, and Julie Christie as an aging actress visiting an old hotel whose young bellboy (Shia LaBeouf) may have a crush on her, ‘though it would be tough to find a bad performance anywhere in this.  Maybe Hayden Christensen and maybe Orlando Bloom are less than inspiring, but nobody sucks.

It’s unlikely anyone will hate this film, but not many will love it, the way they might love Paris, je t’aime. That’s a lot more than can be said for the film that follows, so it may be worth a look. I’ve spent far worse Tuesday evenings, like the Tuesday evening I watched Rio, I Love You.


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