Review: New York I Love You

Bumpy short cuts on the path to love


By Jonathan Foreman, February 3, 2011
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Rachel Bilson, Andy Garcia and Hayden Christensen in a chapter from the New York-themed portmanteau film

Rachel Bilson, Andy Garcia and Hayden Christensen in a chapter from the New York-themed portmanteau film

So called "omnibus" films, composed of more-or-less linked shorts, are always a bit of a gamble. Not long after the World Trade Centre attack, a group of directors made a splash with an omnibus film called 11'09'01 but which included some dreadfully pretentious or even offensive material.

Rather more successful was Paris Je T'Aime, produced by Emmanuel Benbihy. This celebration of the French capital's romantic possibilities included 18 shorts by top-notch international directors. Benbihy has followed up his hit with New York I Love You and is apparently planning similar movies hymning the romantic possiblities of Rio, Shanghai and Jerusalem.

It is a mystery why New York I Love You was not released here two years ago after it first came out in New York. But it certainly makes sense that the distributors are bringing it out now. It is near-perfect Valentine's Day fare: light, pretty, sometimes sexy and only crass in a couple of episodes. And it makes Manhattan look gorgeous and oddly intimate.

While the film is packed with stars old and young, Benbihy did not go for the usual New York suspects when it came to the directors of the film's 10 shorts. Instead, he hired a diverse collection of foreigners, relative unknowns, action directors and first-timers, including the Turkish director Fatih Akin whose almost wordless episode about an older artist obsessed with a beautiful Chinese shopgirl is one of the best in the film.

All of the directors were bound by tight rules. The films had to be shot over only two days and last only 10 minutes.

One of my favourite chapters stars Natalie Portman as Rivka, an engaged Chasidic woman who works in the 47D Street diamond market with a Jain cutter from India, played by the always excellent Irrfan Khan. Directed by Mira Nair and scripted (with some awkwardness admittedly) by author Suketu Mehta, it is a sweet and sensitive short.

Portman also makes her debut as a writer and director, with a slight piece starring Cuban ballet star Carlos Acosta as a Manhattan male nanny (or "manny"), which feels remarkably accomplished.

Inevitably the quality of the episodes - which are linked by an eleventh narrative centered on a woman who takes her video camera around the city - is uneven. In one particularly weak episode, written by celebrated NY playwright Israel Horovitz and directed by Japan's Shunji Iwai, Orlando Bloom playing a blocked film composer again reveals his extreme limitations as an actor.

Rather surprisingly one of the best chapters is a well-observed, quiet piece by the Chinese action specialist Jiang Wen. His film, about an NYU professor and a hipster thief battling for the attention of a beautiful girl, stars the terrific, too rarely seen Andy Garcia, Hayden Christensen and Rachel Bilson. Both men have secret sides and the piece feels like an updated O Henry tale.

Oddly, given the diversity of the directors, almost all of the characters are white thirtysomethings. And almost all the action takes place in Manhattan - the main exception being an episode starring Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman as a long-married couple making an anniversary visit to Coney Island.

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Last updated: 2:58pm, February 18 2011