'New York, I Love You'

Ten helmers, each given a formula to shoot a Gotham love story. The results are, well, formulaic.

The “Cities of Love” franchise begun with “Paris, je t’aime” discards originality for uniformity in its disappointing second installment, “New York, I Love You.” Ten helmers were given a formula for shooting a Gotham-based love story: Lensing had to last no more than two days and editing just one week, connected by transitions shot by one more director. The results are, well, formulaic, hobbled by weak dialogue and absent any sense of texture. The city itself comes off characterless and blandly gentrified, making the Oct. 16 Vivendi Entertainment release unlikely to catch on with targeted romantic arthouse sophisticates.

Whether it can appeal to the multiplex set will depend entirely on marketers pulling in crowds who don’t see much difference between Las Vegas’ “New York New York” and the real thing. In particular, Gothamites will wonder what happened to their city, devoid of grit, and where African-Americans are mere extras and Hispanics apparently nonexistent. Producer Emmanuel Benbihy (who also produced “Paris, je t’aime” and is credited with the feature-film concept here) presumably favored quick turnarounds because they’re cheaper and foster an off-the-cuff urgency, but the talented directors assembled here seem to have felt uninspired or apathetic.

Segments last around eight minutes each, and none are titled, in keeping with Benbihy’s stated goal of avoiding the sense of a collection of shorts. Despite the push for giving it all a feature feel (Scarlett Johansson’s directorial debut, shot in black-and-white, was cut because it didn’t conform to the overall look), there’s no getting around the fact that this is indeed a collection of shorts, which in itself wouldn’t be a bad thing if the components were more incisive.

Some segments do hold up nicely: Mira Nair’s entry stars Natalie Portman as a Chassidic woman in the Diamond District whose strictly business relationship with a Jain gem merchant (Irrfan Khan) takes a surprising turn. While several of the films deal with cross-cultural meetings and clashes, Nair avoids the expected and invests her entry with real emotional tenderness.

Completely different, and working well because of it, is Brett Ratner’s segment about a high schooler (Anton Yelchin) suckered by a pharmacist (James Caan) into taking his wheelchair-bound daughter (Olivia Thirlby) to the prom. Again, expectation is upended, and there’s a piquant sense of humor to the piece, though the voiceover is unnecessary.

Unanticipated relationships similarly inform the episodes directed by Jiang Wen and Yvan Attal, but they lack the tight punchiness needed for such quick work. In Jiang’s piece, thief Hayden Christensen pickpockets Andy Garcia, only to fall for Garcia’s mistress (Rachel Bilson). Attal’s entry consists of two encounters, one involving fast-talker Ethan Hawke trying to pick up a coolly amused Maggie Q (one of the few thesps to make an impression), the other featuring an intense come-on between Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn.

Orlando Bloom is a musician on a tight deadline in Shunji Iwai’s segment, an OK entry made pleasant by the enticingly sweet voice of Christina Ricci as the largely unseen woman encouraging him on the phone. Darkest of the shorts is Allen Hughes’ entry, starring Drea De Matteo as a woman trying to understand why she had a one-night stand with a younger guy (Bradley Cooper), and why she wants to see him again. De Matteo rises above the material, though the flashback sex scene feels gratuitous rather than urgent.

Portman directs a wispy short about a little girl (Taylor Geare) whose male nanny (Carlos Acosta) is uncomfortable being seen as merely a child-care provider. More substantial is Fatih Akin’s piece, starring Turkish thesp Ugur Yucel as an artist obsessed with a woman (Shu Qi, so it’s understandable) in Chinatown. Though the segment works, it feels cut out from something bigger, and as with all the other shorts, even Akin’s corner of Gotham has no extratextual role.

Oddest of all is the short helmed by Shekhar Kapur, who took over for the late Anthony Minghella (who scripted the episode, and to whom the entire pic is dedicated). Julie Christie plays an opera singer who checks into an elegant hotel (shot as if it’s somewhere in heaven) to kill herself. She’s intrigued by a handicapped bellboy (Shia LaBeouf, his accent slipping into unknown regions) who magically becomes associated with John Hurt. Meant to convey feelings of wistfulness and yearning, the piece merely feels ill thought-out, despite Christie’s best efforts.

The sole short not set in Manhattan belongs to Joshua Marston, who sets Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman on Coney Island; their standard old-couple shtick is redeemed by the sheer pleasure of watching these two pros radiate more personality than the dialogue provides.

It’s too much to expect the kind of New Yorkese wit spouted by Woody Allen characters in their prime, and Benbihy’s decision to hire non-Gotham helmers could have been a bold move, but the compendium’s greatest flaw is its overall homogeneous feel. Emilie Ohana, cast as a video artist casually shooting the life around her, is meant to be the connecting feature in the transitional scenes (helmed by Randy Balsmeyer), but she’s simply an empty, smiling shell, sweetly observing but never entering into the life of the film.

Perhaps because of the time constraints, tech creds are solid but featureless; lighting is especially uninspired. Music is meant to reflect the Big Apple’s multicultural mix, but none of it feels like New York.

New York, I Love You

Production

A Vivendi Entertainment release of an Emmanuel Benbihy and Marina Grasic production, in association with Sherezade Films, Also Known as Pictures, Benaroya Pictures, Grosvenor Park Media, Ever So Close, Visitor Pictures, Plum Pictures, 2008NY5 and Grand Army Entertainment. (International sales: QED Intl., Los Angeles.) Produced by Benbihy, Grasic. Executive producers, Michael Benaroya, Glenn Stewart, Marianne Maddalena, Taylor Kephart, Bradford W. Smith, Claus Clausen, Jan Korbelin, Steffen Aumueller, Pamela Hirsch, Celine Rattray, Susanne Bohnet. Co-producer, Parker Bennett.

Crew

Feature film concept, Emmanuel Benbihy, based on a premise by Tristan Carne. Main editor, Affonso Goncalves; music, Jack Livesey, Peter Nashell; music supervisor, Ed Gerrard; songs, the Budos Band; production designer, Teresa Mastropierro; costume designer, Victoria Farrell; sound (Dolby Digital), Ken Ishii, Tom Varga; re-recording mixers, Lewis Goldstein, Matthew Gough; associate producers, Pierre Asseo, Laurent Constanty, Warren T. Goz, Stewart McMichael; assistant directors, Tom C. Fatone, Adam J. Escott; casting, Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee. Reviewed at Rio de Janeiro Film Festival (Panorama), Sept. 29, 2009. (Also in Cannes Film Festival -- market.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 103 MIN. Segment Directed by Jiang Wen Written by Hu Hong, Meng Yao; adaptation, Israel Horovitz.
Segment Directed by Jiang Wen
Written by Hu Hong, Meng Yao; adaptation, Israel Horovitz. Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Mark Lee Ping Bing; editor, Affonso Goncalves; music, Tonino Baliardo.

Segment Directed by Mira Nair
Written by Suketu Mehta. Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Declan Quinn; editor, Allyson C. Johnson; music, Mychael Danna.

Segment Directed by Shunji Iwai
Written, edited by Shunji Iwai; adaptation, Israel Horovitz. Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Michael McDonough; music, Shoji Mitsui.

Segment Directed by Yvan Attal
Written by Olivier Lecot, Yvan Attal. Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Benoit Debie; editor, Jennifer Auge.

Segment Directed by Brett Ratner
Written by Jeff Nathanson. Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Pawel Edelman; editor, Mark Helfrich; music, Mark Mothersbaugh.

Segment Directed by Allen Hughes
Written by Xan Cassavetes, Stephen Winter. Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Michael McDonough; editor, Cindy Mollo; music, Atticus Ross, Leopold Ross, Claudia Sarne.

Segment Directed by Shekhar Kapur
Written by Anthony Minghella. Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Benoit Debie; editor, Jacob Craycroft; music, Paul Cantelon.

Segment Directed by Natalie Portman
Written by Natalie Portman. Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Jean-Louis Bompoint; editor, Tricia Cooke; music, Nicholas Britell.

Segment Directed by Fatih Akin
Written by Fatih Akin. Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Mauricio Rubinstein; editor, Melody London; music, Ilhan Ersahin.

Segment Directed by Joshua Marston
Written by Joshua Marston. Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Andrij Parekh; editor, Affonso Goncalves; music, Marcelo Zarvos.

Transitions Directed by Randy Balsmeyer
Written by Hall Powell, Israel Horovitz, James Strouse. Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Michael McDonough; editor, Affonso Goncalves.

With

Segment Directed by Jiang Wen
With: Hayden Christensen, Andy Garcia, Rachel Bilson.
Segment Directed by Mira Nair
With: Natalie Portman, Irrfan Khan.
Segment Directed by Shunji Iwai
With: Orlando Bloom, Christina Ricci.
Segment Directed by Yvan Attal
With: Maggie Q, Ethan Hawke, Chris Cooper, Robin Wright Penn.
Segment Directed by Brett Ratner
With: Anton Yelchin, James Caan, Olivia Thirlby, Blake Lively.
Segment Directed by Allen Hughes
With: Drea De Matteo, Bradley Cooper.
Segment Directed by Shekhar Kapur
With: Julie Christie, John Hurt, Shia LaBeouf.
Segment Directed by Natalie Portman
With: Taylor Geare, Carlos Acosta, Jacinda Barrett.
Segment Directed by Fatih Akin
With: Ugur Yucel, Shu Qi, Burt Young.
Segment Directed by Joshua Marston
With: Eli Wallach, Cloris Leachman.
Transitions Directed by Randy Balsmeyer
With: Emilie Ohana, Eva Amurri, Justin Bartha.

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