Having rather enjoyed this film’s predecessor: Paris, Je T’aime (2006) I was really looking forward to seeing New York, I Love You (2009). For those who don’t know these films are parts 1 and 2 of a project from producer Emmanuel Benbihy that is designed to explore the concept of love, in all of its forms, around the globe. But alas, without wishing to be too blunt about it, after New York, I Love You I think there’s a fair chance that the series will be prematurely discontinued. Each film tells a series of love-focused stories that occur within the various neighbourhoods and districts of the chosen city. The stories are all supposed to fit together rather like the poems of great authors jigsaw in an anthology. Sadly this jigsaw was packaged and sold with quite a few essential pieces missing. Although the film is not completely without its merits there are several fundamental flaws to it that prevent it from having any kind of lasting impact on the viewer in spite of an ensemble cast to die for and in spite of being set in one of the most photogenic cities in the world. There is a chance that those who have not seen Paris Je T’aime will find the piece quirky and inventive. Speaking, however, as somebody who has seen Paris, Je T’aime there is only one way to look at this film and that is as an inferior, and at times rather pretentious, spin-off.
I’m going to be honest about the fact that I was a little bit galled before I even went into the screening when I read that Hayden Christensen was going to be making an appearance. The people behind the film seemed to think that I should be excited about the fact that Christensen was once again teaming up with Rachel Bilson, of OC fame, who originally starred together in the film Jumper (2008). I can’t say that excitement was the first emotion that came to the fore when I found out that Christensen was involved in the project, particularly when Natalie Portman was also making an appearance. After the criticism of the Starwars prequels I’m amazed they’re allowed in the same room together, let alone on the same film set. If I was going to get excited about any two actors teaming up again it was going to be Natalie Portman and John Hurt who both worked on V for Vendetta (2006). This is especially poignoint as Portman once again sports the Sinead O Connor look at a pivotal point in the narrative…although I am beginning to wonder if Portman can appear in a film now without shaving her head for the role.
Before I go into the flaws of this film in a little more detail it’s important to highlight that the film is not a total loss. There are some beautiful moments that are, quite literally, poetry in motion. The segment in which a down-and-out writer (Ethan Hawke) tries to talk a dry-humoured hooker (Maggie Q) into bed is the first truly mesmerising moment in the film and is both mildly erotic and genuinely funny. The scene in which Bradley Cooper and Drea de Matteo have their passionate kiss framed by the back window of a yellow taxi cab is beautifully shot and consequently truly romantic. Turkish-born actor Ugur Yucel puts in a moving performance as a lonely painter who drinks Jack Daniels as though it were lemonade and Shu Qi plays his subject du jour, a shrinking violet of a herbalist living in China Town, with an intriguing edge of vulnerability that leaves the audience wanting, nay needing, to know more about where these two people have come from and why they behave the way they do. Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman are thoroughly convincing as Abe and Mitzie: an aging married couple who are beginning to find New York quite a frightening place to live in and it’s always good to see Robin Wright Penn working.
Perhaps most successful, however, is the part played by Emilie Ohana: a video artist who is capturing the characters of New York on her hand-held and inadvertantly connecting quite a few of the characters we see throughout the film. This particular character reminds us of the true meaning of Santori time. An outside observer Ohana’s character reflects and represents the feeling of isolation that cities can evoke in us. Everybody else around her appears to have a connection, a relationship or some other tie to the city, but not her. She watches from the outside; forever looking in to the lives of others. Occasionally enjoying a brief encounter with somebody and sometimes just missing out on one. So with all this to love about the film, you might be wondering what my damage is?
The first problem is that all this great stuff makes up a very small portion of the film. A greater amount of screen time is given to actors and characters about which the audience does not care. It’s hard enough to find time to care about characters that you’re only going to see for about 5 minutes anyway. But when you make those characters unshaven thieves, girlfriends that nag about never going on holiday and young men who have sex with disabled women whilst they hang from the branch of a tree it’s made all the more difficult. If nothing else the fact that Orlando Bloom spent a good portion of his segment parading around in an ill-advised beanie hat will certainly put a lot of people off. Allow me to offer a more in-depth example.
In his story Shia LaBeouf’s character limps badly around the set for reasons that are never explained. When I say he limps badly I mean that whatever disability he has is not all that convincing. You just start to get over the fact that Indiana’s son has been in some terribly crippling accident when he opens his mouth and allows some strange, indecipherable accent to spew out. “You’re not American” Julie Christie’s character keenly observes. No he’s definitely not American Ju, and if you can guess where on earth he’s supposed to be from in less than 10 tries you’re a shrewder human being than I. Then he has a nose bleed on her which she seems to quite enjoy. Then he jumps off the balcony and cracks his head open (this kid’s a real liability). Then Shia LaBeouf seems to turn into John Hurt. This brief but candid synopsis leads us from our first problem: irritating characters, on to our second problem: cinematic smugness.
It’s a little bit too apparent that the entire cast and crew think that this is a project of unsurpassable genius and that the fact that nobody in the audience is really going to understand what’s going on for a lot of the time somehow makes it even more of a masterstroke. My proof? You can almost see the superior smirks at the sides of the actors’ mouths as the speak and it’s set in a world where everything’s erotic: the baldness of a head, the crimson of a nose bleed, that yucky adhesive you have to lick to seal an envelope. It’s all in slow motion and soft focus and it’s all a little bit annoying to be honest. I’m amazed that there wasn’t a scene in which a slow-motion replay of a dog throwing up was somehow sexualised and spliced into yet another incomprehensible yarn. Maybe I’ve seen one too many of the summer blockbusters but there has to be some happy medium between them and a project which is so deliberately cryptic that it alienates the viewer. I’m not just bitter because I’ve been to university 3 times and can’t for the life of me understand why Shia LaBeouf would magically change into John Hurt, the record-breaking levels of pretention in this film are off-putting to say the very least.
To summarise a lot of critics, most likely the ones that did not review Paris Je T’aime, will probably give this film okay reviews due to the A list status of the majority of the cast members and due to the “quirky” nature of the characters and plotlines. I am not such a critic. Watching New York, I Love You is a bit like going to the fair and watching a freak show: it’s entertaining enough in places but it’s not really what you pay your money for. The stories really don’t hang together as a collection and it feels a bit like a group of people sat down in a room together and said “Right, what’s the weirdest bunch of characters we can come up with? Let’s put them all in one movie!” Isn’t there anyone for the normal viewer to identify with? I’ve been to New York, I know that there are some normal people living there…I guess their lives aren’t quite pretentious enough to appear in a Benbihy production. A below-average film deserving of a below-average rating of just 4 stars
New York, I Love You is out in UK cinemas 8th October 2010.
DIRECTORS: JIANG WEN, MIRA NAIR, SHUNJI IWAI, YVAN ATTAL, BRETT RATNER, ALLEN HUGHES, SHEKHAR KHAPUR, NATALIE PORTMAN, FATIH AKIN, JOSHUA MARSTON, RANDY BALSMEYER
WRITERS: HU HONG, YAO MENG, ISRAEL HOROVITZ, NATALIE PORTMAN
CAST: BRADLEY COOPER, JUSTIN BARTHA, ANDY GARCIA, HADYDEN CHRISTENSEN, RACHEL BILSON, NATALIE PORTMAN, ORLANDO BLOOM, CHRISTINA RICCI, MAGGIE Q, ETHAN HAWKE, SHIA LABEOUF, ROBIN WRIGHT PENN
RUNTIME: 103 MINS