Is New York I Love You meant to be a love-letter to the Big Apple? As far as I could tell, it was a seething satire about the city’s sleazy, vapid, self-involved stereotypes. Now, I’m not saying that is true of New Yorkers. I’ve spent a (very short) time there and everyone seemed perfectly lovely. It’s a beautiful city, no doubt filled with rich, wonderful characters. And maybe the directors of the 10 vignettes that comprise this film had hoped to capture them. But more often than not, the short films fail, succeeding only to annoy the audience both with their overly-showy formal execution and complete lack of genuine emotional engagement. Would any New Yorker watch this film and say “Yes, that is so us!”
OK, I didn’t enjoy New York I Love You, but I didn’t like Paris, je t’aime either, so take my opinion as you will. Both films were produced by Emmanuel Benbihy, and are the first instalments of his ‘Cities of Love’ project, in which directors are asked to contribute a short film about 1) the titular city, and 2) love. However, he employs directors with no real link to the eponymous location, and presumably, little understanding of the people that inhabit it. Here, their knowledge of New York must have been learnt from other films (I would hope Woody Allen’s Manhattan was on the reading list, but I suspect it was replaced with New York Minute), and thus the characters feel like little more than reheated stereotypes.
It’s hard enough to make love seem real in film – good luck doing so in 10 minutes with a couple of characters that may well have been crafted in a high school drama improv class. The two aforementioned goals of the ‘Cities of Love’ project are rarely achieved, and instead the series becomes an opportunity for directors from around the world to show off some smug filmmaking techniques, and for Hollywood actors to pretend they’re really arty and deep. Again, the ‘high school drama improv class’ metaphor remains apt.
Of the film’s 10 vignettes, I will admit that I legitimately loved three, and enjoyed parts of two others. The best film was helmed – shockingly – by Natalie Portman, and depicts a young father (Carlos Acosta) sharing an afternoon with his daughter (Taylor Geare) in Central Park. It’s sweet, poignant and shows off one of NY’s most iconic locales. First runner up was Japanese director Shunji Iwai’s short, in which Orlando Bloom’s struggling film composer shares a flirtatious phone relationship with a young woman (Christina Ricci). Sure, it’s just a big meet-cute, but considering New York is home to hundreds of similar romantic comedies, it felt particularly appropriate. My other favourite was directed by Joshua Marston – it’s a nice little film about an elderly couple (Cloris Leachman and Eli Wallach) that packs a wallop of an ending. The films I half-liked? Brett Ratner’s offbeat prom night had nice performances from Anton Yelchin, James Caan and Olivia Thirlby. Yvan Attal’s street-side encounter between a writer (Ethan Hawke) and a callgirl (Maggie Q) is brilliant, but a late-film reprise with Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn falls flat.
And that will be the extent of my praise. The remainder of the pictures are almost too uninspiring to recall, let alone recount. The entire flick gets off on the wrong foot with Hayden Christiansen and Rachel Bilson attempting some snappy “Nyew Yawk” banter and failing miserably. Allen Hughes’ portrayal of a sexy tryst between Drea DeMateo and Bradley Cooper looks and feels like a Lenny Kravitz music video. The worst offender is Shekhar Kapur, whose film features Julie Christie as a former Opera singer checking into a hotel attended by Shia LaBeouf’s disabled bellhop. It plays like the worst kind of student film – one dripping in false significance and polluted with gaudy camera tricks.
Sitting through the many interminable instalments of New York I Love You might just be worth it for those golden little nuggets I mentioned earlier. And thankfully, each segment is so short it’s hard to get too bored. But overall, I can’t help but feel as if this is a wasted opportunity. There is no sense of place here like there was in Paris, je t’aime, and there is little variation in the characters (apparently everyone in New York is an artist, or rich, or both). I mean, 10 short films and not one for the LGBT community?
If there is a thread running throughout New York I Love You, it is that of Zoe (Emile Ohana), a video artist running around the city capturing these very stories. At the end of the film, she hosts a rooftop party for a small selection of her affluent artist friends. Her final project – the moments we have witnessed over the last 90 minutes – is projected for their viewing pleasure. New York I Love You should be a movie for all of us; Benbihy should be bringing this beautiful city, and all of that love, to our rooftops and cinema screens. Instead, the project feels like an exclusive party for his artsy director friends. And we’re not invited.