New York City is gigantic, crammed to the gills with people of all kinds, from all kinds of different places, of all ages and walks of life. But you wouldn't know any of that from watching New York, I Love You, the omnibus film follow-up to Paris, Je T'aime, which gives 10 directors and wannabe directors the opportunity to hold the camera and express their most cliched notions of what's to love about the city I call home.
Not every story is cliche, of course, just as not all are bad, but the rotten apples have a tendency to spoil the bunch here, particularly when small little romantic stories well-suted to this format are paired alongside ghostly meditations on life and art that reach for grandiose and fall flat in the process. Most use the word "love" quite literally, depicting relationships in various stages of beginning and ending, and a few include nice surprises and insights. But the "New York" part tends to get abandoned, with directors more likely to use generic brownstones and hip downtown restaurants as settings rather then some of the odder, more delightful corners of the city.
Worst of all is the attempt to connect the stories in some way using a flimmaker character (Jacinda Barrett) who's ostensibly filming some of the characters, but not all. It's nice when some character flit in and out of each others' stories, but any bigger attempt to connect the thing feels forced. Anyone who has sat for 5 minutes on a New York City park bench instinctively gets the largeness, the randomness of the place; it seems futile and unnecessary to explain it further.
Everyone will probably be able to pick their favorite segments according to their taste. I found Brett Ratner's vignette, starring Anton Yelchin as boy bringing the neighborhood pharmacist's daughter (Olivia Thirlby) to prom, vulgar and unfunny, but others will probably love that while sighing with boredom through Natalie Portman's lovely piece, a quiet day in the life of a father (Cesar de Leon) who, by virtue of the color of his skin, is mistaken for his daughter's nanny. I had no idea what to make of Shekhar Kapur's entry, taken over from the late Anthony Minghella, in which a hunchbacked Shia LaBeouf and Julie Christie, as a famous opera singer, spark some kind of connection in a spooky hotel room. But I was captivated by the high-concept sweetness of a segment featuring Orlando Bloom of all people, as a frustrated composer falling in love with a coworker (Christina Ricci) entirely over the phone.
The standout gem is Mira Nair's entry, starring Portman as a Hasidic Jewish woman haggling with a jewler (Irfan Khan) in the diamond district, and connecting with him despite their different ages and backgrounds. Not only is it one of the few pieces to acknowledge the myriad cultures that exist beyond privileged Manhattan, it boasts the kind of clever, concise writing that could have improved other segments with equally good concepts but only middling execution.