I really enjoyed Paris, je t’aime, a concept film devised by Emmanuel Benbihy and Tristan Carné in which some 20 internationally renowned directors made short (5-7 minute) segments tied together by a Paris setting. Alfonso Cuarón, Joel & Ethan Coen, Sylvain Chomet, Walter Salles, Gus Van Sant, and others provided pleasant and sometimes affecting love letters to the city, and the film’s only real problem was the varying degree of quality in each of the individual segments.
That’s not so much a problem in Benbihy and Carné’s follow-up feature, New York, I Love You, a similarly-conceived film featuring New York stories directed by Fatih Akin, Yvan Attal, Allen Hughes, Shunji Iwai, Wen Jiang, Joshua Marston, Mira Nair, Brett Ratner, Shekhar Kapur, and Natalie Portman. No, these all stink.
I take that back – the final segment, directed by Joshua Marston (Maria Full of Grace) and featuring an elderly couple (Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman) taking a walk to Coney Island, is actually pretty good in its own modest way. And some of the others aren’t so terrible.
But the rest… ugh. After the first film, I was looking forward to New York, I Love You. The concept is solid. But red flags went up when I saw the list of directors. Paris je t’aime set a pretty high standard with the talent involved; in New York, we have exactly half of the number of directors involved, and they just don’t stand up. Akin and Nair, sure. Attal, Iwai, and Jiang, okay, maybe. Kapur and Hughes are each more than a decade removed from artistic success. Marston has directed one feature, Portman none, and what in the world is Brett Ratner doing here?
Nothing against Ratner, but his segment is a painful nadir, a sloppy teen comedy sketch starring Anton Yelchin, James Caan, and a prom date in a wheelchair. Shekhar Kapur fares little better on the opposite end of the spectrum in his overindulgent segment, which features Julie Christie as an aged opera singer, John Hurt as a hotelier, and Shia Lebeouf (?) as a hunchbacked bellboy. No, it’s not a comedy. Allen Hughes’ portion, starring Bradley Cooper and Drea De Matteo, is a complete mess.
The usually reliable Nair’s segment also falls into the painful category: she tries to do too much with too little in a story between an Indian (Irrfan Khan) and a Jew (Natalie Portman), and I’d rather not ever revisit Portman’s Bronx Jew accent. Yet the Portman-directed segment, starring Cesar De León as a “manny” and Taylor Geare as the girl he cares for, is one of more endurable portions of the film.
Also tolerable: the fleeting segments by Wen and Iwai. Wen’s tale of grifter Ben (Hayden Christensen) and a professor (Andy Garcia) and his young girlfriend (Rachel Bilson) opens the film; Iwai’s stars Orlando Bloom as a music producer and Christina Ricci as his corporate contact. Ricci has about five seconds of screen time here, but they’re a welcome five seconds.
Moving into the nearly-good category are the segments by Akin and Attal. Akin has too little time for his story involving an artist (Ugur Yücel) and an oppressed shop worker (Qi Shu), but it’s still mildly affecting. Attal gets two whole, separate segments to himself: the first features Ethan Hawke and Maggie Q, and it’s the highlight of the film until Marston’s finale; the second, with Chris Cooper and Robin Wright, is merely okay.
In-between all the stories are unneeded transition scenes directed by Randall Balsmeyer and featuring a videographer randomly meeting and filming characters from the individual segments.
By my count, at least half of this movie is unbearable, and only one 7-minute segment is really worthwhile. View at your own risk, and I’m already dreading the next 3(!) features planned, which will be set in Shanghai, Jerusalem, and Rio de Janeiro.
Does it do justice to New York City? Nah. Wait for the real New York compilation feature (or make your own), which can feature segments by Coppola, Scorsese, and Woody Allen (they tried this before in New York Stories, which, warts and all, I’d heartily recommend over New York, I Love You), and also Spike Lee, Abel Ferrera, Sidney Lumet, etc.