New York, I Love You
Credits: Directed by Natalie Portman and Yvan Attal and Fatih Akin and Mira Nair and Shekhar Kapur and Brett Ratner and Allen Hughes and Jiang Wen and Shunji Iwai and Joshua Marston and Randall Balsmeyer and starring Bradley Cooper, James Caan, Andy Garcia, Ethan Hawke, Natalie Portman, Christina Ricci, Robin Wright, Hayden Christensen, Rachel Bilson, Orlando Bloom, Shia LaBeouf and Olivia Thrilby.
Details: (MA15+), 103 mins, In Cinemas 13 May 2010, United States,
Synopsis: In the city that never sleeps, love is always on the mind. Those passions come to life in New York, I Love You – a collaboration of storytelling from some of today's most imaginative filmmakers and featuring an all-star cast. Together they create a kaleidoscope of the spontaneous, surprising, electrifying human connections that pump the city's heartbeat. Sexy, funny, haunting and revealing encounters unfold beneath the Manhattan skyline. From Tribeca to Central Park to Brooklyn, the story weaves a tale of love as diverse as the very fabric of New York itself.
This portrait of love in the big apple is rotten to the core.
In 2006 producer Emmanual Benbihy turned out Paris, Je T'aime, a compendium of short films centred on erotic possibilities and directed by, amongst others Isabel Coixet, the Coen Brothers and Alexander Payne.
Its been dismissed by some as the sort of art house movie designed to lure the kind of crowd who wouldn’t really like arty movies. That’s a mean assessment, but it’s not without merit. Paris, IJe T'aime was indeed a twee producers package, with a built in marketing strategy…City of Lights (and Love) + well known directors + romance. If you didn’t like the movie you could switch off and watch the scenery or the equally pretty characters and since each of the short movies that comprised the feature were only about eight minutes long, the odds weren’t bad in deriving some pleasure out of the exercise.
New York, I Love You is well, exactly like its Parisian counterpart in form. Each of the film's eleven directors were given a set of rules – they must confine their story to a single neighbourhood and it must deal with a ‘love encounter’ and they must wrap their shoot in two days. There are some interesting conceptual tags in this; it’s a pseudo-sophisticated filmmaker’s conceit that assumes that everyone has they’re own movie idea of New York (as they did for Paris – as well as perhaps a private experience.)
This New York side-steps a lot of the clichés and archetypes, but in its place there’s a great gaping hole where a movie ought to be. New York, famously, has a slang, a style of patois that’s been justly celebrated by writers in all dramatic forms for generations… but the dialogue in this movie is uniformly bland. In New York movies the characters always sound like they’re speaking in code; but here everyone seems to have checked in from the same writers workshop for Existential 101. Some of the actors are fine and some of the scripts buy into one New York cliché of inter-personal relations; a fast-talking, argumentative type of dialogue. Still, they’re not going to do much with a line like: “This city is full of surprises, isn’t it.”
It could be a function of the fact that the production shared or used the same tech crew on all the movies, but most of the shorts here share a similar ‘look’; that smart grit and polished sheen familiar from Sex and the City. Still, the various styles across the shorts do offer some radical shifts in mood and approach; Allen Hughes cuts up his narrative and stitches it together in vision and sound bites, while Jiang Wen delivers his tale of two pickpockets bickering over a girl in a series of swift cuts and clever visual gestures – a perfect analogy for the skills of his protagonists. But for a movie that suggests New York as a character, the settings – streets, parks, lush apartments, pokey dives, rustic bars – could be at home in Belfast or Toronto. In other words the movie isn’t really about the textures, characters, customs, styles and culture that exist in the hugely varied New York districts… so if that isn’t what the film is about, then what’s the point? Or, to put it another way, New York is an abstraction, a concept, a back drop… at worst, a gimmick.
The actual stories here range from boring to actually quite good. The better ones have the loose, sad delivery of short fiction like the one starring Natalie Portman, playing a Hasidic bride to be in the jewel business who likes to haggle with an East Indian diamond trader, played by Irrfan Khan. They are both deeply, faithfully religious but share similar fantasies of liberation that we know they’ll never act on – having the feeling is rebellion enough.
But most of the scripts skirt race and culture as a subject. New York’s ‘melting pot’ isn’t exciting here; it’s another barrier, another reason why people find it had to ‘make a connection’. New York’s cultural mix is represented in the casting. Maggie Q plays a hooker impressed (sort of) by Ethan Hawke’s ‘I can help you with your G spot’ pick up line. Some of the films use the set-up/joke/pay-off structure that the more popular shorts on the festival circuit have; like Brett Ratner’s bad-taste piece about a young guy who takes a girl to a prom… she’s pretty and willing, but she’s in a wheel chair. It doesn’t sound like a possibility for sexual fantasy, but that’s what it becomes.
Still, there are some genuinely sweet moments here. Like Natalie Portman’s piece that combines a sly satire on both social and cultural assumptions in a story about a man played by Carlos Acosta, not Caucasian, who is mistaken for a nanny, or “Manny” by two white middle class women while he’s out in the park with his daughter.
It could be because the producers consciously avoided approaching ‘New York’ directors for this episode of what they propose as a series of love stories set in famous cities (Rio, Shanghai, Jerusalem and Mumbai are on the list) but, given the epic and diverse possibilities that Gotham city offers up as a ‘character’, they’ve reduced it to little post-cards from a place that hardly seems to really exist. Still, that could be a New York joke, couldn’t it?
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