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New York, I Love You

"every moment another story begins" An anthology film joining several love stories set in one of the most loved cities of the world, New York.

A dozen stories. Ten filmmakers. 103 minutes. If you do the math, you will draw the same conclusion I did - that there isn't much time for a viewer to make an emotional connection with every episode presented in this all-star 2009 omnibus tribute to New York. An eclectic group of global filmmakers, some well-known, others on the verge, had to meet certain requirements to make the final cut - they were given only 24 hours to shoot, a week to edit, and the result had to reflect a strong sense of a particular NYC neighborhood. The cumulative effect makes for a moody portrait of the city through various couplings, but due to the contrivance of its structure, the film falls short in bringing a deeper emotional resonance to the themes the creators want to convey.With a couple of key exceptions, the film appears to be more of a valentine to Lower Manhattan. Consequently, there is a fashionably edgy look to the short stories. Israeli-born French director Yvan Attal epitomizes this feeling in two episodes. The first deals with an aggressively talkative writer (an irritating Ethan Hawke) throwing a barrage of romantic and sexual overtures at a sleek Asian woman who appears to have heard it all (Maggie Q). The other is marginally better, focusing on a chance conversation outside a restaurant between a woman taking a cigarette break (an effortlessly sexy Robin Wright Penn) and a man intrigued by her emotional availability (Chris Cooper). Both have O. Henry-type twist endings that make them ultimately entertaining.A couple of other entries feel more gimmicky by comparison. Brett Ratner's mostly comic entry features Anton Yelchin as a nave high-school student and Olivia Thirlby as his unexpected prom date with James Caan as her pushy pharmacist father. Mira Nair directed a flat culture-clash encounter between two savvy souls - a Hassid woman about to marry (Natalie Portman) and a Jain diamond dealer (Irrfan Khan) - who become mutually intrigued by their price negotiation meeting. Other episodes feel even more cursory. Portman wrote and directed a brief episode focused on an ebullient toddler (Taylor Geare) and her father (Carlos Acosta) having fun together in Central Park, highlighted by a brief dance performance from Acosta at the end (he is a Cuban-born principal dancer for the Royal Ballet). Chinese director Jiang Wen led Hayden Christensen, Andy Garcia and Rachel Bilson on an empty roundelay of deception and humiliation among thieves at a bar.Japanese director Shunji Iwai was at the helm of a slight episode featuring Orlando Bloom as a frantic musician working against deadline, while Turkish director Faith Akin shares a brief story of obsession with Uur Ycel as a solitary artist who wants to paint the face of a local Chinese herbalist (Shu Qi). The entry from Allen Hughes (of the Hughes Brothers) consists mostly of a continuing voice-over of two regretful lovers (Bradley Cooper, Drea de Matteo) hesitant to follow up on their passionate one-night stand. The oddest, most dispiriting entry comes from Shekhar Kapur who directed a script from the late Anthony Minghella (to whom the film is dedicated). It stars Julie Christie as a guest returning to a posh Fifth Avenue hotel where she bonds with a palsied, Slovak-accented bellboy played by an overly sensitive Shia LaBeouf. The nature of their relationship is never really divulged, but it ends on a surreal note of little consequence.Directed and written by Joshua Marston, the best episode is perhaps the least ambitious as it features Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman as an aged, bickering couple on their way to the boardwalk in Coney Island for their 63rd anniversary. The reassuring way she places her head on his shoulder is easily the most touching moment in the film. All in all, this stylish hodgepodge will appeal mostly to those who are drawn to the short story format. Benot Debie's sharp cinematography at least brings a consistent sheen to the film as it tethers the various story lines to a New York that feels mired in a cinematic fantasy. I just think Woody Allen's "Manhattan" executes on the same approach far more effectively. The extras on the 2010 DVD include a handful of additional scenes (though not the two deleted segments directed by Scarlett Johansson and Andrei Zvyagintsev), interviews with five of the directors and the original theatrical trailer.
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