The biggest drawback New York, I Love You has compared to its predecessor Paris Je T'aime—besides, I suppose, the fact Paris is a capital of love, whereas New York, whatever its benefits, doesn't really have a terribly romantic aura, and of course the superior roster of directors who took on Paris—is the decision to weave these stories together, as opposed to keep them in discrete chunks.
It hurts the film in a variety of ways. In it simplest form, it's annoying gimmick: it sort of suggests that everyone is connected in this city of eight million, which is not only hackneyed cinematic territory, but also patently preposterous in a city where some people will never leave their ethnic enclave, never mind their borough. In an esthetic sense, it limits the filmmakers, with the result being that few of these feel very distinct in either look or tone: Paris was a hit-and-miss collection, but at least every section held the imprint of its auteur and their unique take on the city. Finally, and most vexing, is that it severely limits the places the film can actually go. New York is probably one of the most demographically diverse cities in the world, with everything from ghetto-dwelling descendants of former slaves to penthouses holding the richest old white folk in the world, but this takes places almost exclusively in a kind of boring and pretentious upper-middle-class milieux. Consider the fact that not one of these stories has an African-American character in a central role. I'm not going to call the NAACP or anything, but how on earth do you purport to tell a story about New York without even making a passing reference to black American culture?
It's no surprise, then, that the best vignettes here are usually the ones that get out of the midtown Manhattan frame of mind. Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding) tells a mildly overwrought but still touching story of two wildly divergent religious people—a Jain and a Hasidic Jew—bonding over diamond sales and their own odd practices. Fatih Akin (The Edge of Heaven) depicts the moving obsession that an alcoholic painter has with a girl who works at a convenience store. And in the film's stand-out piece, Joshua Marston (Maria Full of Grace) watches a bickering old couple on their way to Coney Island to celebrate their anniversary: unlike most of the film, it is both funny and tender, as well as seeming specifically in touch with its setting.
The biggest sin of the rest of the shorts is just being kind of boring—Natalie Portman and Shekhar Kapur go overboard on the cinematography, so there's are at least beautiful, if not necessarily terribly affective—although they are a couple hideously pretentious, annoying bits, such as Shunki Iwai's (Swallowtail Butterfly) exploration of whining tit of a composer starring Orlando Bloom and, most egregiously, the too-precious transitions, which feature Emilie Ohana as a videographer, documenting the city (do you get it?). Whether the rest are bad or just blah, though, a town that has produced as much vivacious culture as New York deserves far better treatment than this.
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New York, I Love You
Written & directed by Joshua Marston, Brett Ratner, Fatih Akin and many more
Starring Natalie Portman, Ethan Hawke, Orlando Bloom, more