Review: New York, I Love You

Directors: Natalie Portman, Jiang Wen, Mira Nair, Shunji Iwai, Yvan Attal, Brett Ratner, Allen Hughes, Sheekhar KapurFatih Akin, Joshua Marston, Randy Balsmeyer
Writers: Emmanuel Benbihy, Tristan Carné, Hall Powell, Israel Horovitz, James C. Strouse, Shunji Iwai, Israel Horovitz, Hu Hong, Yao Meng, Israel Horovitz, Scarlett Johansson, Joshua Marston, Alexandra Cassavetes, Stephen Winter, Jeff Nathanson,
Anthony Minghella, Natalie Portman
Producers: Marina Grasic, Emmanuel Benbihy
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Natalie Portman, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson, Bradley Cooper, Maggie Q, Hayden Christensen, Christina Ricci, Andy Garcia, Ethan Hawke, Blake Lively, Anton Yelchin, Shu Qi, Carlos Acosta, James Cann, Justin Bartha, Eli Wallach, Cloris Leachm
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 103 min.


Three years ago one of my favorite films of the year, Paris Je’ Taime was released to theaters and I was actually taken aback at how much I liked the piece. It was a series of vignettes, each directed by a famous director (from Gus Van Sant to the Coen Brothers to Wes Craven) with a whole slew of great, character actors and A-list stars. Each vignette was a cute little story examining a relationship somewhere within the great culture of Paris. Not necessarily lovers either. There were fathers and daughters, sisters, elderly couples and even a vampire tale amongst many others. Within months it was announced that a follow-up to the film would be coming soon that would take place in New York. So I’ve been waiting the better part of three years to see the sequel of sorts to one of my favorite films of 2007 with another set of great stories told by world class film makers and actors. And finally it is here in America showing to a fairly wide audience.

There had been some grumbling that New York, I Love You wasn’t quite the film its predecessor had been. Quite honestly I can’t fathom that notion as this film is at least the former’s equal; if not superior to the “original.” If you liked Paris Je’ Taime (or loved it as much as I did), there’s no reason to steer clear of this reimagining. It’s got the same amount of heart and inspiration and should capture your heart just as quickly and steadfast as the stories did threeyears ago.

The strength of the film lies almost completely with its actors. Since this is an ensemble film that is almost completely dialogue driven and the vignettes are so short with minimal locales, there’s very little for the director to do but point the camera at his/her actors and see what comes of it. Thankfully these actors have their hearts into the emotional mood of the script and are clearly passionate about what is being attempted. Sure there’s going to be the Hayden Christensen haters out there that will want to get up and leave the theater within the first five minutes as he and Rachel Bilson are reunited (after their stint together in Jumper) alongside Andy Garcia in which the two males go fisticuffs in a game of wits and masculinity to win the heart of said looker. Ironically, while Hayden just can’t seem to find the acting groove these days, this is actually one of the more intense and fun shorts in the entire series – probably in this author’s personal top three.

While there’s not enough time or space to delve into each vignette individually here, there are a couple worthwhile mentions. Shia LeBeouf astounds here in a short about a hobbling bell hop honored to be serving the needs of an aging opera singer (Julie Christie) staying at his hotel. Leaving the brash, charming yet cocky attitude aside that he is known for, LeBeouf instead extends his range to a quiet, seemingly sad but intense loner who clearly has had a tough life and now prefers the quiet of a seldom used hotel and his simple meditations on life. Combined with what sounds like a Hasidic accent, it’s difficult to believe this is Shia taking on this role – and he capitalizes fantastically. If Michael Bay hasn’t already solidified Shia’s career in Hollywood, perhaps the indie melodramas of years to come will snatch him up and see what he can do in more real films such as this. We can hope.

The opening sequence stars Bradley Cooper (The Hangover) and Justin Bartha (National Treasure) in a Robert Altman like dialogue sequence in which the two both get in a cab at the same time and then bicker their way into the cabbie’s head with which way is the best way to get from point A to point B. The chemistry there is undeniable. Then there’s Natalie Portman wielding a fading accent and a shaved head alongside The Namesake’s Irrfan Khan in a dual of words that leads to something a bit softer and more beautiful as it moves to a conclusion. Again, watching all of the star power do its thing on screen for 100 minutes is by far this film strength and is more than enough to keep one engaged. There’s someone in here that everyone will recognize and enjoy thoroughly.

If you saw 2007’s Paris Je’ Taime, you might recall that despite the rather short lived nature of each story, the ability for some of the screenwriters to insert a little bit of a twist ending to the narrative is always fun. Even if it is a tad on the predictable side in some cases, the moments of realization or unveiling are still nice to see due to the pleasant nature of the mood and the joy with which the actors carry it out. For instance, a short in which Robin Wright Penn and Chris Copper share a dialogue on the sidewalk while having a smoke is completely obvious as to where it will end up. Nevertheless, the sexual tension between the two on screen and the crisp mood of the city’s bustling while standing on the corner of a New York side street just pushes all the right buttons for me and works until the end. Juxtaposed with this tale is a similar story that likely contains the best performance (or at least most entertaining) of the film; coming from Ethan Hawke as he tries to persuade a beautiful woman (Maggie Q) to have sex with him. But maybe this woman isn’t so easily as charmed as the others he’s approached in the past. These two vignettes showcase two similar conversations in a similar setting with even similar characters; yet the outcome of the latter is completely different and not only will have you surprised, but maybe even put a dumbfounded smile on your face.

While very, very similar to Paris Je’ Taime in both structure, mood and style, one thing that the film does differently is give it’s audience a sense of connections between some of the characters and their otherwise separate stories. The stories are a tad less contained than they were before. This isn’t to say that the stories are all interconnecting (as in something like Crash or Magnolia). Ethan Hawke’s character shows up more than once within the picture as does Chris Cooper and Justin Bartha among others. I can’t say that I disliked this approach to gelling the stories together a bit more, but I can’t say that I really liked it either. The Orlando Bloom thread actually wasn’t contained into one piece at all but rather we came back to his story a couple of times after being elsewhere in the city with other characters and their stories. As another example, one of the main characters is constantly brought back to us as she roams the city video taping things and people of interest. I suppose that this tactic made the story flow and gel together a little bit better, but it also made it feel more loose and “blurry” for lack of a better word. The jury in my head is still out on whether I liked this approach or would I rather have had distinct breaks between each story; complete with brief title cards of the director and writer (as Paris Je’ Taime does).

I’m also not sure that this film spent as much time giving us the feel for New York as was given to us in Paris three years ago. The characters were all there and we did see the city’s surroundings, but the focus was less on the locale and more on the characters; which is fine, but I would’ve liked to feel the heartbeat of the city just a little bit more. Admittedly maybe that feel was there and it is just easy to overlook as we’ve so many movie take place there that it just becomes second nature at this point to blow it off. Still, I didn’t quite get the NYC vibe as much as I thought I would. A minor complaint.

Putting the minor criticism aside, this is a superbly entertaining film that is shot with gusto and charm and acted with heart, patience and intensity. Sure some of the stories work better than others and some of the dialogue is better here than over there. It may even drag a bit in places for some people. But for me it was completely mesmerizing, entertaining and extremely heartfelt; just like that first viewing of Paris Je’ Taime was three years ago. Which leads me to last point which pains me a great deal. Loving Paris Je’ Taime as much as I did, I was dismayed to find that when I popped it in again a couple of weeks ago in anticipation of this picture, I didn’t love it quite as much and even found myself feeling a little bit disappointed. So as much as it pains me, with New York, I Love You I may decide to leave my love for the film intact and never watch it again. I want to see it again; right now in fact. But I’m afraid it will lose its luster and sense of initial wonder upon subsequent viewings. But if you haven’t yet seen the picture, keep an eye out for it in whatever city you call home. Whether you reside in Minneapolis or Phoenix or Davenport, I think you’ll agree: “New York, I Love You.”

For the record, my favorite three stories were:
Ethan Hawke hits on Maggie Q (directed by Yvan Attal ).
Old couple (Cloris Leachman and Eli Wallach) walks across town to their special place (directed by Joshua Marston).
At the behest of James Caan, young Anton Yelchin takes Olivia Thirlby (Caan’s daughter) to the prom. (directed by Brett Ratner).
– honorable mention: Shia LeBeouf and John Hurt tend to the needs of opera singer, Julie Christie.

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Ashley
Guest

Thanks for the thoughtful and thorough review, Andrew. Every other review I've read of this film has been a brief sidebar-length story, and several of them have been disappointed by it, specifically mentioning the lack of gay characters, and that most of the actors are white. A valid point most of the time, to be sure, but for some reason it seems to be really nitpicky with this type of film, and I've been looking everywhere for a more detailed report of what ELSE the film offers.

I don't think it's open in Toronto yet, but I've been looking forward to it for what seems like forever.

rot
Guest

Did this go straight to video or in theaters?

I wouldn't mind catching it as I do love New York.

Jandy Hardesty
Admin

It's in theatres here now; not sure how wide the release is, but it's playing at nine cinemas in Los Angeles, which is more than usual for indie releases, actually.

Bob Turnbull
Admin

That's a great detailed review Andrew. But…

Being one of the grumblers, I have to say that I can't really fathom the notion that this film could possibly get this kind of praise.

Let me be clear up front though:

– I've only seen the work in progress print from a year ago

– I too loved "Paris Je T'Aime"

– I love omnibus films in general

But the problem that I found with the film (and the reason I didn't think it could be fixed) were the stories and the characters themselves. I didn't see a whole lot of subtlety in the scripting or the plots. Even though it has a very diverse set of directors, I couldn't help thinking that there was a common tendency to go for the maudlin and that made the stories kinda bland for me. I agree that it didn't really take advantage of its location either.

To be fair though, I really should see the final version (to be honest, the work in progress print looked like a final version, but they admitted to needing to work on music and other 'post' type activities). It's been a full year since I've seen it and perhaps I'll pick up a different vibe the second time around (with editing, music and pacing changes).

I'll try to be open minded, but man, I just don't see how they can save it for me.

Jonathan
Admin

Paris Je’ Taime really hit home with me, especially at the point in my life when I watched it. I'm looking forward to this one, especially because of this review.

Jandy Hardesty
Admin

It's interesting that you say so much of the film depends on the actors in any given section – for me, each short in Paris, je t'aime had a fairly distinct directorial point of view. But that may be because the caliber of directors seemed higher on the Paris film. On this one I'm like, okay Mira Nair, Shakhar Kapur, oh, Fatih Akin, that's cool…Brett Ratner? But you said his was one of the best, so I'll withhold judgement. Paris had Coens, Coixet, Craven, Natali, Cuaron, Payne, Tykwer, Van Sant… Did you find Paris to be more director-driven as opposed to New York being actor-driven?

Bob Turnbull
Admin

I know I did Jandy – there was a much larger array of stylistic touches to Paris than to New York. I found NY to be less actor-driven than schmaltz-driven (OK, I'm being overly critical…I just remember rolling my eyes a few times in NY).

Don't hurt me Andrew…B-)

Bob Turnbull
Admin

Maudlin: Extravagantly or excessively sentimental.

No, that fits pretty well in spots…Actually you are right – perhaps just a simple "overly sentimental" would've sufficed (I'm exaggerating my reaction a bit to the film I think, because I was so disappointed in it – and when you've let some time go by that just magnifies the feeling).

That Kapur segment did certainly stand out – at least from a visual perspective. And Maggie Q could've just stood there for 100 minutes and I think I would've been happy. Actually, that would've been a better film (see there I go again…).

Jandy Hardesty
Admin

Andrew, which ones in Paris would you skip? I think the only one I actively didn't like was the Christopher Doyle's "Port de Choisy" sequence (the one with the Chinese woman).

Jandy Hardesty
Admin

I think that's the same one. Chinese woman, hair salon, weird.

Bob Turnbull
Admin

I love Doyle's segment. OK, it does stand out a bit from the rest, but I found it funny and he used a lot of visual shorthands to get little things across (ie. she didn't really pull him through the broken window, but it sure gave you an idea how she treats salesmen – especially when they talk about "problems with Oriental hair").

I think it's one of those pieces that is going for a feeling and an idea instead of any kind of narrative sense. For me it worked. But yeah – it is weird…

Bob Turnbull
Admin

Andrew, here's where I kind of differentiate between the two films…I rewatched Doyle's segment last night after you and Jandy discussed it. I then let it play through the next one as well – Coixet's piece about a man who was about to leave his wife until she told him about her terminal disease. In "Paris", the characters don't actually speak any words and the narrator takes us through the events with a rather detached voice. The emotion comes from the faces and actions of the characters. If it had been in "New York" (at least comparing with the general tone I got from the other stories), the two leads would have talked it all out and spelled out every emotion with help from the soundtrack.

I suppose that's not necessarily objectively worse…

Jonathan
Admin

The Hurt/Christie/LaBeouf segment, I really enjoyed and I was really impressed by LaBeouf's short performance. The Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman segment was the one that stuck out the most to me though. Funny, touching, charming.

Overall, it didn't nearly have the effect on me that Paris Je’ Taime had. It didn't quite have the magic or the diversity that Paris had either.

Hannah Fisher
Guest

I enjoyed this in-depth review, but, after watching it this morning, have been searching for a seemingly unpublished piece of information. I didn’t fully understand the Hurt/LaBeouf/Christie segment. I have an inkling that it may have been a past memory revisiting her like an old ghost, but I’m not sure. It seems too. . . unreal for this sort of movie. Can anyone enlighten me, please, to the true meaning or interpretation of this story?