Vivendi Visual Entertainment // 2009 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // February 4th, 2010
Every moment...love begins.
Following in the footsteps of Paris, je t'aime, the 2006 multi-story, multi-director cinematic love letter to Paris, comes the 2009 New York, I Love You. It's a new city and a new set of directors, but how does the film stand up against in predecessor?
New York, I Love You is comprised of about a dozen vignettes, some of
which interweave with one another or feature characters that reappear throughout
the film. Here are but a few of the stories contained in the film:
* A petty thief (Hayden Christensen, Shattered Glass) attempts to woo a young woman (Rachel Bilson, The Last Kiss) in a bar but is interrupted by her much older boyfriend (Andy Garcia, Smokin' Aces).
* A Hasidic diamond buyer (Natalie Portman, Heat) considers the possibility of love with a dealer (Irrfan Khan, The Namesake) on the eve of her wedding.
* A composer (Orlando Bloom, Elizabethtown) struggles to complete his work but gets some much-needed assistance over the telephone from his possible soul mate (Christina Ricci, Monster).
* A young man (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek (2009)) agrees to take a girl (Olivia Thirlby, Snow Angels) to prom and is surprised to learn she's in a wheelchair, but that doesn't stop the two from sharing a special evening in Central Park.
* A couple (Eli Wallach, The Holiday, and Cloris Leachman, Sky High) spends their anniversary bickering on the way to Coney Island.
* A writer (Ethan Hawke, Explorers) spins a vulgar tale of seduction to win the attention of a beautiful woman (Maggie Q, Live Free or Die Hard) who has her own secret.
Two of the worst things a movie can be are dull or pretentious, and much of the 2009 comedy/drama anthology New York, I Love You manages to be both. The film's predecessor, 2006's Paris, je T'aime, had more than its share of problems: it was wildly uneven in tone and in quality and often too precious for its own good. But there was enough to like about the movie and enough standout sequences (particularly a comedic piece directed by the Coen Brothers and a fantastic closer by Alexander Payne, which alone makes the entire film worth seeing) to warrant a recommendation. Unfortunately, not only is New York, I Love You missing any short films that distinguish themselves, but the movie fails to pay homage to the Big Apple in any real way. For a movie with "New York" in the title, the movie has surprisingly little to say about the city or life within it.
What exactly does the film have to say about New York? Apparently, there are a lot of actresses that live there! Thanks, Brett Ratner. Also, people hook up for one-night stands (Allen Hughes), Ethan Hawke will talk dirty to you and there are prostitutes (Yvan Attal) while still other people work in the film industry and fall in love over the phone (Shunji Iwai). I wouldn't even have a problem with any of these if they at least offered engaging dialogue or interesting characters. They don't. Ratner's, in particular, is problematic; while it's more entertaining than others and at least offers a punch line to the vignette, there's a gross streak of misogyny that runs through watching a paraplegic dangle herself from a tree while someone has sex with her. Of course, the "twist" ending makes this either a) way grosser or b) just as gross. Either way, yuck. And is Brett Ratner the best representative of New York the producers could find? Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen (who already conducted their own similar experiment, 1989's New York Stories) and Spike Lee are sorely missed.
Some of the sequences fare better than others. Mira Nair's piece featuring Natalie Portman and Irrfan Khan as diamond traders is interesting for a while, as the two characters discuss their own cultures and manage to connect as characters. It eventually gives way to some pretentious romantic silliness, but is at least somewhat captivating. Portman directs her own piece about a father and daughter sharing a day together in New York that gets a lot of things right. Likewise, the vignette by Joshua Marston, whose piece with Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman taking a day trip to Coney Island shows genuine affection for its characters and the city in which they inhabit. The sequence with Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn stands out just because of the acting, and while it was very easy to telegraph the "twist" ending of the scene, I found myself thankful that it at least had the courtesy of having an ending. Many of the scenes simply trail off or, worse yet, stop cold before really going anywhere.
The New York, I Love You Blu-ray is attractive and competent but nothing to get terribly excited about. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with a 1080p HD transfer, and for the most part looks excellent: blacks are stable and solid (there are several nighttime outdoor sequences), fine detail is apparent and colors are warm. There are several sequences that look a little garish and ugly and others where the image is soft, but this appears to all be by design -- it's a source issue determined by directorial choices, not a problem with the HD transfer. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio track delivers the dialogue in a straightforward, clear manner, but that's about it; most of the activity is concentrated on the front channels and the overall audio track, while serviceable, is never all that immersive or involving.
The disc is also surprisingly light on extras. I suppose a commentary track would have been out of the question, as it would have required too many participants and have been recorded in too many languages to be feasible (still, what an accomplishment that might have been). Instead, we get interviews with a few of the filmmakers involved, the movie's theatrical trailer, and two sequences deleted from the film: one written and directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev and another written and directed by Scarlett Johansson. While both have their problems, I'd argue they're as good or better as anything that was kept in the finished film; why they were cut I really can't say. The Zvyagintsev piece is the lesser of the two, about a boy who watches a couple (played by Goran Visnjic and Carla Gugino) break up on Coney Island through the viewfinder on his camcorder. Not only does the short film have some more compelling ideas about how to tell a story than many in the finished film, but it also carries more emotional weight than, say, Hayden Christensen and Rachel Bilson (in a blonde wig) getting together after a pickup basketball game. Plus, Zvyagintsev understands one of the cardinal rules of filmmaking: it's better to have more Carla Gugino in your movie than less -- or, worse yet, none at all. New York, I Love You doesn't get it.
Now, a word about the Scarlett Johansson film. When it was cut from New York, it was kind of a big story; film audiences more than happy to hear about the actress attempting to branch out and failing were rewarded with juicy gossip and it was all but flat-out stated that her film was a disaster. Having now seen her piece, "These Vagabond Shoes," I can say that I might like it better than the rest of New York, I Love You. It's flawed, yes (the film-student decision to present in sepia tones that eventually give way to color might have distinguished it too much from the rest of the movie, stylistically speaking), but it contains a terrific performance from Kevin Bacon and says more in its simplicity -- it is, ultimately, about the joy of eating a really good hot dog -- than many of the other stories attempt to with their heavy-handed themes and convoluted plotting. I was just as ready to dislike it as anyone else (we as a people aren't happy when someone who's already been gifted with physical beauty also possesses other talents), but I found it to be one of the only shorts to pay loving tribute to the film's namesake city, and its omission from the finished movie is a mistake. Maybe I just really like hot dogs.
New York, I Love You isn't a terrible film, but given its potential and the amount of talent involved it's difficult to call it anything but a big disappointment. It's watchable at least once -- every few minutes there's a new story and a new recognizable face to keep things moving along -- but hardly worth revisiting. Rent it or skip it all together and rewatch Manhattan instead.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Vivendi Visual Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site