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Monday, February 15, 2010

New York, I Love You (**)


This is no way to tell New York you love it. The big name actors - Natalie Portman, Shia LeBeouf, Hayden Christensen, Rachel Bilson, Bradley Cooper, Orlando Bloom, Christina Ricci, Blake Lively, Ethan Hawke, Andy Garcia, Chris Cooper, Anton Yelchin, Olivia Thirlby, Julie Christie, Drea DeMatto, Eli Wallach, Shu Qi, Maggie Q, John Hurt, James Caan - and international team of directors, including Brett Ratner, Mira Nair, and Shenkar Kapur, combined their talents into a whole lot of mostly pretty-looking tedium. New York, I Love You continues the filmmaking concept began in Paris, J'Taime. The hit-and-miss nature of the anthology format hurt Paris, J'Taime as a whole; New York, I Love You strives for a more consistent tone. The result lacks the previous anthology's highs and lows and mainly flatlines. Nothing in New York, I Love You comes close to the finest vignette in Paris J'Taime, 14e arrondissement, directed by Alexander Payne.  New York, I Love You photographs the city nicely, but doesn't utilize it well.  There's no sense of geography and the vignettes don't take the neighborhoods of New York and fuse its personality and theme into their narratives like the best shorts did in Paris, J'Taime. Each filmmaking team seemed committed to telling the most hackneyed, pseudo-profound story they could conjure, as if standing on a street corner smoking is the pinnacle of what it means to live in the big city. The most successful of the shorts from an entertainment standpoint is by Brett Ratner, who tells the story of Anton Yelchin getting strong-armed by James Caan into taking his daughter Olivia Thirlby to the prom in Central Park. But even then, Ratner's contribution to New York pales to what Payne, Wes Craven or The Coen Brothers achieved in Paris. There was a brief but humorous runner involving Bradley Cooper jumping into taxi cabs that are already occupied, but it quickly went nowhere. The Shenkar Kapur short about Julie Christie in a hotel where Shia LeBeouf works as a hunchback porter was even more painful to sit through than it sounds. Natalie Portman puts on a Yiddish accent in a short by Mira Nair before writing and directing her own contribution. Some fine acting (or were they even acting?) by Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman carried their short about an elderly Jewish couple traveling to Brighton Beach - but ultimately, there's no payoff. You end up wondering what the point is at the end of nearly every vignette. (Incidentally, Scarlett Johansson's contribution to New York, I Love You was cut from the theatrical release. Wondering what A Scarlett Johansson Joint is like and why it was excised? YouTube, I love you.)