New York, I Love You

23 11 2009

Director: Various

Starring: Miscellaneous

Released: Oct. 16, 2009

New York, I Love You begins with a lot of promise – Justin Bartha and Bradley Cooper, two New Yorkers who don’t know each other, accidentally get into the same cab. If this sounds like the set up to a joke, it kind of is, though unintentionally.

Two of the stars of one of 2009’s comedy behemoths – The Hangover – decide to share the cab, but can’t agree which way the cabbie should take to get where they both need to go. Their banter of ‘who knows best’ is interrupted when the cabbie chimes in with his own suggestion. Which promptly unites the two New Yorkers against him until he kicks them out of his cab.

And just like that, the audience is jarred from their ideas that this movie will be filled with this same sort of playful look at what makes the Big Apple tick in terms of love and relationships – if they had any to begin with (let’s face it, playful and NYC aren’t entirely synonymous in a post 9/11 world).

While collaborative movies are always admirable for their effort, they normally run into one common problem: as the movie gets lengthier and more vignette’s are added, each director’s vision is stunted.

New York, I Love You is a collaboration effort in homage to the 2006 film Paris Je T’Aime It follows the same format of short stories from different directors that add tot he common unity of the movie. Because of this you get a lot of big name actors packed into an hour and 43 minutes of film – aside from Bartha and Cooper, there’s Ethan Hawke, Robin Wright, Hayden Christiansen, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson, Shia LaBeouf, Natalie Portman, Anton Yelchin, Julie Christie, Cloris Leachman and Eli Wallach , among others.

The second vignette is just as promising as the first. Hayden Christiansen, Rachel Bilson and Andy Garcia explore the different roles each person falls into in their life in a minimalistic way. Is Christiansen’s Ben a thief or a lost soul? Is Bilson’s wide-eyed Molly an innocent college student or aware of more than she lets on? And is Garcia’s Garry truly a debonair business man or a thief who’s primary sleight of hand skills allowed him to move up the corporate ladder? The sleight of hand is truly the star of this scene, though, as the viewer tries to figure out just who is ending up with who’s wallet, phone, watch, ring, and other personal belongings.

From there, however the movie wanders far away from the comical, with the exception of Anton Yelchin’s delightful high school prom romp with the “disabled” daughter of his pharmacist (Olivia Thirlby and James Caan, respectively), and delves into the much more complex emotions wrapped up in the hook-ups, make-ups and break-ups that surround the love lives of twenty-, thirty- and forty-somethings in New York.

That’s not to say high school doesn’t have it’s own drama in the love department, but you’d be hard pressed to find a high schooler spewing the vulgar lines which Ethan Hawke spouts off to Maggie Q before she turns the tables in a delectable twist.

Love, lust and loss are all very apparent in the film, and while some of the vignettes seem to be toss-offs, others, like the Shekhar Kapur’s masterpiece of 8-minutes makes you wish he had more time.

In Kapur’s short, Shia LaBeouf plays a hobbling, Russian bellhop with more enthusiasm and humbleness than we’ve seen from him since he starred in Holes. He’s opposite Julie Christie, an aging opera singer who has just checked into a small hotel she always stays at in New York. The silence of this piece is astounding as it is juxtaposed with busy scenes where we get inside character’s heads and the streets of New York. Instead, life moves at a different pace in this hotel. The color, a stark white which contrasts with the predominant night scenes is an excellent touch. Life slows down, but the pace of the movie does not crawl. Instead, the viewer is exposed to one of the most real interactions in the entire movie, until the inevitable twist, which leaves many still scratching their heads after the movie ends.

Honorable mentions must go to Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn for the provocativeness of their scenes. In a city full of deception and mere white lies, it’s easy to get caught up in Penn’s dirty talk and even easier to understand how Cooper responds. Their shared secret, however, lends and intimacy to the scene which is only realized once it’s over.

Orlando Bloom’s turn as a struggling composer is also beautifully done as his relationship is revealed through phone conversations with Christina Ricci. Their interaction is so chaste that you can’t help but root for them by the end of their short time together.

And Bradley Cooper, in his second turn in the film, provides a glimpse into the psyche of the young adult living and loving in the city as he agonizes over the decision to meet a woman for drinks after what was supposed to be a one-night stand. Drea De Matteo provides the same treatment for the situation from a woman’s point of view in elegant fashion.

The crowd favorite, however, comes at the very end as Cloris Leachman and Eli Wallach take on the roles of two stubborn and curmudgeon-y individuals who are still very much in love.

While each story has it’s strong points, and some have their inequities when compared to the greats, this movie does little to add points to New York. While filming took place all over the city, there is little that maintains that these situations are not happening to people in any city in the United States.

The movie also lacks a comfortable flow. While some stories slow the pace down, it more often than not seems as though time is flying by for these characters and they aren’t connected by anything more than a zip code, no matter how many times other characters appear in the periphery of vignettes that aren’t there own. Which, in itself, is one of the major reasons the movie doesn’t work as a whole.

With the exception of Cooper, Bartha and Hawke, who each take two adequate and unrelated turns front of the camera, it would have been better had each vignette stuck to it’s own characters. While it is understandable that people in New York could be passing each other every day or frequenting the same bars and restaurants as one other person, the walk-on roles of secondary characters who appear in their own leading vignettes is distracting. You start watching for who will pop up in the background instead of the leading ladies and men and it takes away from the overall theme of the movie.

As short, non-interrelated stories New York, I Love You works well on a story standpoint even as it fails to live up to the lofty goal of showcasing New York. But when the directors try to intermingle their characters the entire vision falls apart.

Verdict: A mixture of good and bad. More mediocre than anything with a few bright and brilliant spots. Overall: B-

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