2006′s indie hit Paris je t’aime worked precisely because it was a fresh, fully-formed experimental endeavour, featuring a collective of renowned directors – ranging from indie mainstays such as Bend It Like Beckham’s Gurinder Chadha, to the better-known likes of Gus Van Sant, Coen Brothers, Alfonso Cuarón, Alexander Payne and even horror maestro Wes Craven – each directing a short film. With eighteen films filling out the two hours, there was never really much of an opportunity to get too bored. The sequel to this acclaimed project, New York, I Love You, lacks the same consideration, instead having the feel of a messy tourist advice pamphlet, lingering too long on a smaller run of shorts while a greater chasm of quality runs between them.
From the very first story, starring Rachel Bilson, Hayden Christensen, and Andy Garcia, the affected dialogue comes off as silly and incredibly forced, approximating what a film student might make to try and impress a professor. The actors inexorably flounder under the faux-hip, contrived script, in what feels like a bungled attempt to try and ape the mighty wordplay of Woody Allen.
The double-edged sword of an anthology film, of course, is that nothing can be truly bad (or good, perhaps) for too long, even if it does mean that the final package is curiously disconnected and sparse, as is true here. Part two, though endowed with a goofy sense of forced mysticism, at least has the benefit of Natalie Portman playing her role of a conflicted Jewish woman well, even if it is ultimately bogged down by the painfully obvious aspirational element and some risible visual effects.
Next, Orlando Bloom plays a tit of an artist in the disappointingly bland outing from talented Japanese director Shunji Iwai (All About Lily Chou-Chou). Disappointing, at least, until Christina Ricci breathes some life into it by beaming her pretty face onto Bloom’s porch, only a few seconds before things end on a disinteresting ellipsis.
Vyan Attal’s effort seems just as full of bloated “poetry”, as Ethan Hawke tries hard with his best New York accent while hitting on the scarcely interested woman played by Maggie Q. There’s a neat self-awareness to the calculation of the dialogue this time, though, culminating in a cheeky twist. Interestingly, Hawke’s character appears to closely resemble what his romantic lead in Richard Linklater’s Before films may have turned into if left thoroughly unchecked. The punchline is also a kicker.
The upswing of quality continues well into subsequent shorts, and who would fathom that one of the better offerings would come from Brett Ratner? Number five is a strangely sweet, yet somewhat demented story about a boy (Anton Yelchin) who is jilted by his girlfriend just before prom. A shopkeeper (James Caan) helps him out by offering his own daughter (Olivia Thirlby) as a date, which goes swimmingly until the boy makes an awkward discovery. Yelchin is reliable as usual, and Caan is on top form in this quirky story about fleeting romance that’s spiced with a hilarious, fairly disturbing kick.
Menace II Society co-director Allen Hughes reigns in an interesting experimental short, as one night standees Drea de Matteo and Bradley Cooper nervously contemplate a second meeting, with their thoughts overlaying the images as dialogue. Doubtless Woody Allen-inspired, but unlike earlier, it seems to capture a very authentic sense of that New York brand of neurosis at its finest.
Anthony Minghella’s written contribution (directed by Shekhar Kapur) allows Shia LaBeouf to benefit from a brief role as a crippled Jewish hotel porter, which he executes with surprisingly convincing aplomb. The focus of the story, however, on a mysterious woman played by Julie Christie, unfurls a peculiar hand that drags on past the point of tolerance even if it runs in at a mere twelve minutes. Meanwhile, Natalie Portman’s short (both written and directed by her) about a male nanny feels more than a little pat, though the timing of the release is ostensibly good given the protagonist is a ballerina.
Several of the project’s most vibrant appearances come from unexpected sights; Burt Young and Eli Wallach (the latter of whom especially seems to become somehow more vital and active with every passing year) are welcome sights in brief shorts. And finally, a continuation of the earlier Ethan Hawke/Maggie Q short, has Chris Cooper interjecting to share a cute scene with Robin Wright Penn.
Curiously, of all of these segments, it is a brief transitory moment in a cab that feels the most authentic of all; the sight of an apparently grumpy, despondent New Yorker (Uğur Yücel) trying his best to ignore his boisterous cab driver is a nice retort to the film’s countless rose-coloured glimpses of the city. This character is the kind of disagreeable phantom who would probably take pains to trip up all of the film’s characters if he ever encountered them.
The corny summation of an ending, flashing clips of the interactions we’ve seen up to this point, seems at odds with the intended subtlety and dialled-down, art-house aesthetic of the previous 90 minutes; it is most certainly a hand overplayed and unnecessary. How easily you’ll weather the film depends on your taste for poetic, obtuse cinema, often without too much of a rhyme or reason. Its meditative approach offers intermittent delights, as do the countless bit-parts, but there’s just not enough here cohering to make it an especially worthy outing.
New York, I Love You is out now in U.K. cinema’s.