By Nathanael Griffis
I suppose you could call it a sequel, which perhaps could excuse or explain some of the problems, but New York, I Love You is in a lot of ways an entirely different film from Paris, Je T’aime. Sure, they’re both comprised of love stories all taking place in a single city. The major difference though is that Paris, Je T’aime is good.
I may have been a little harsh in that sentence, but I had such an amazing time watching Paris, Je T’aime that there was no chance New York, I Love You could have lived up to it. Still, that’s no excuse to be bad a movie. It has its moments, but they’re sporadic at best. It ends strong, which was a pleasant surprise considering the awful opening. Any film that relies on Hayden Christensen, though, is immediately in danger of… well… sucking, is the only appropriate term I can think of.
Before I break down the various segments, let’s get the complaining out of the way. The film has a different, almost montage structure, which could have been interesting, an added challenge, but instead feels contrived. There are little transition segments throughout the film that jump out and merely seem to take up space and give you cliché pictures of New York. The opener is the worst. Bradley Cooper and Justin Bartha get into a cab and argue about the best way to get somewhere while avoiding traffic. Eventually, the cabbie joins in and we have an annoying picture of what the world thinks of New Yorkers. This is not the case; they are not all argumentative people who are selfish, brusque, and yet charming for being such. Some are, but not everyone. To be honest, a lot of this movie feels like the idea of what people think New York is instead of an actual fresh look at the City.
The transition segments, which are normally barely over a minute, also cause confusion more than anything else. It’s harder to tell when one story ends and another begins. They detract from the power of the previous segments by creating new implications as we see past characters interacting in new and different ways. This could have been used to add complexity, but no, it’s used to show us Hayden Christensen playing basketball to impress a girl.
They also don’t take full advantage of New York as a setting. There is no clear sense, like in Paris, Je T’aime, that each of these segments is in a different place. Every now and then there is a shot of a street sign, but that’s not enough. Natalie Portman and Joshua Marston’s segments are the only exception as they give us excellent, complex looks at Coney Island and Central Park. Still, where’s Chelsea, East Harlem, Washington Heights, Grant City, Van Nest, Roxbury, SoHo, Hollis, Gravesend?–and that list hasn’t even scratched the surface. Heck, they could have done Long Island, which keeps insisting on being included in NYC until they start feeling elite again.
My point is that for the most part, with a few exceptions, this film failed to grasp the point. They didn’t utilize their setting and give us love stories that matter within said setting. In fact a lot of times the love stories are weak and cliché. The dialogue is not as good. It can’t manage to create rounded-out characters. This wouldn’t be a problem if the directors wanted to make segments with less talking, but most segments, even the good ones, rely heavily on dialogue. It was like a Quentin Tarantino movie written by Skip Woods (he wrote X-Men Origins: Wolverine). The first few segments are weak and taint the rest of the film. The first segment with Hayden Christensen as a pickpocket who gets shown up by Andy Garcia is especially clunky. Brett Ratner’s prom segment could have been good if he hadn’t been more concerned with a surprise ending and forcing a voice over, and also if he hadn’t directed. There’s also a definite preoccupation with sex, which I believe people may think makes it edgier or more realistic, but just reduces the most complex of emotions into a single physical action. One or two segments about sex, sure, that could be an interesting chance to explore some dynamics; four or five and you’re lacking depth and originality.
There are good moments, though. Ethan Hawke is great anytime he’s on screen, and he single-handedly makes his segment worthwhile. Skekhar Kapur’s segment, which was written by Anthony Minghella and stars Julie Christie, Shia LaBeouf, and John Hurt, saved the entire movie. It pushed the film back up to the level of quality it needed to be at. The segment Natalie Portman directed of a father walking her daughter through a park is a sweet look at love within a family. The final segment with Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachmen as a bickering old couple makes it all worth it, though. They are two amazing actors proving they are still on their game. It’s heartbreaking, hilarious, and ultimately sweet despite the slight clichés it evokes. The Orlando Bloom and Christina Ricci one wasn’t bad, but his whiny persona got annoying by the end.
There are also two interesting bonus segments on the DVD that weren’t including in the film. One was directed by Scarlett Johanssen and stars Kevin Bacon as a film noir-esque character who travels to Coney Island for a hot dog. It’s technically very good and a pretty cool little short film, and that is all. The second film by Andrei Zvyagintsev is good as well. The story is simple: A young man films two people breaking up and builds and emotional connection to them without ever meeting them. At first it surprised me that these weren’t included, because they’re better than most of the others in the film, but after thinking about it, they just didn’t fit the aesthetic. They would have fit in Paris, Je T’aime, because it was more free-form. New York, I Love You has a stronger montage feel. Everything has to connect and flow together, which may be the restriction which tears the entire thing apart.
If Paris, Je T’aime is the reason to watch anthology films, New York, I Love You is the reason to avoid them. There is just too much you have to bear watching to get to the three good seven-minute segments. The amazing city of New York is better than this. It deserves so much more. It is a diverse, rich, and complex place that is like no other, and when you reduce it to bars, proms, and one-night-stands, it’s a little insulting. There is so much more this film could have done with its setting and theme, and it should have been easy with New York as inspiration, but apparently not.