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New York, I Love You

Rated R, 103 min. Directed by Jiang Wen, Mira Nair, Shunji Iwai, Yvan Attal, Brett Ratner, Allen Hughes, Shekhar Kapur, Natalie Portman, Faith Akin, Joshua Marston, Randy Balsmeyer. Starring Orlando Bloom, James Caan, Hayden Christensen, Blake Lively, Julie Christie, Bradley Cooper, Chris Cooper, Drea de Matteo, Ethan Hawke, John Hurt, Irfan Khan, Shia LaBeouf, Cloris Leachman, Rachel Bilson, Christina Ricci, Olivia Thirlby, Eli Wallach, Robin Wright Penn, Anton Yelchin, Burt Young.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Nov. 6, 2009

New York, I Love You The central thesis in this omnibus of short films (spun off from Emmanuel Benbihy and Tristan Carné’s compilation film Paris, Je T’aime) seems to be that New York is not its landmarks or its landscape; New York is its people. This is all well and good, but was it really necessary for the filmmakers to assemble such irritating actors to personify said city? Short to short, it’s a Russian roulette: Christensen in a mustache and porkpie hat in Jiang’s lead-off short about a snot-nosed grifter, then a wolfish Hawke as a writer on the prowl (underdirected by Attal), followed by Caan yukking it up in Ratner and writer Jeff Nathanson’s softball about virginity lost, surely New York’s most tonally deaf short (capped off with Paul Simon’s “The Only Living Boy in New York” – really?). There are a few surprises: Kapur’s contribution, all billowing white curtains and doleful action reflected in mirrors, is almost comically overwrought – no surprise there – but it does suggest that LaBeouf (Transformers) could have a career as an actor should he ever stop making movies that require cardio and not much else from him. And nonactor Carlos Acosta, a celebrated ballet dancer, is beautifully understated in a short written and directed by Portman that is atmospheric but ultimately rather slight, even snubbing. An unfortunate throughline in the films – beyond their lack of humor or female perspective – is a surface preoccupation with identity; they hang on “gotcha!” moments that presume, well, presumptions on the part of the viewer. The most successful efforts are the ones that aim low: Iwai’s compact meet-cute between a twitchy Bloom and a disembodied voice, and Turkish filmmaker Akin’s short. The latter is built on a timeworn, even threadbare, setup – a beautiful girl, a besotted painter – but Akin smartly casts an alluringly imperfect pairing – Taiwanese actress Qi Shu and the Turkish actor Ugur Yücel – who act, not pontificate, and express, rather than put on mannerisms. It’s the kind of barely there impression piece that wilts under too much scrutiny, and it’s one of the best of the lot, which should tell you everything you need to know about this piffling effort.
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