Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Patchy "New York, I Love You" has lots of great moments

New York, I Love You (2009) 
103 min., rated R.
Grade: B

Following 2007's "Paris, Je T'aime," the latest collage of 10 vignettes about love, romance, and sex is "New York, I Love You," taking us to a new city but keeping the styles more unified. It's the second in an ongoing series of “Cities of Love” compilation films, continuing with Rio and Shanghai next year. Eight minutes each, the film is an enjoyable love letter to New York, without (surprisingly) the involvement of Big Apple hound Woody Allen. It's easy to call any anthology movie uneven. Naturally, "New York, I Love You" is patchy, some segments working better than others and not all of them coming together. And some come with oblique twists, while others are just slices of life. For some of the film, New York has an evocative atmosphere, that of a twinkling cityscape; other times it's a bit darker than that. 

In the first, directed by Jiang Wen, Hayden Christensen plays a pickpocket who pursues Rachel Bilson, who is having an affair with Andy Garcia; their exchanges in a bar are like a dance out of a David Mamet script. The lovely short film by Mira Nair stars Natalie Portman as a Hasidic woman confiding in an Indian diamond merchant; she is about to be married and has cut off all her hair. Shunji Iwai's involves a failed cartoonist (Orlando Bloom), who only knows her voice, meeting his secretary (Christina Ricci) for the first time; it's talky but sweet. Brett Ratner's segment goes down with ironic humor and a surprise, in which a neighborhood pharmacist (James Caan) coaxes a high school senior (Anton Yelchin) into taking his wheelchair-bound daughter (Olivia Thirlby) to the prom. Allen Hughes' sexy, nicely written piece about feeling, mood, and character when Bradley Cooper and Drea de Matteo as former hookups meet up at a bar. Shekhar Kapur directs the hauntingly sad story of a former opera singer (Julie Christie) and the disabled Russian bellhop (Shia LaBeouf) who serves her at an old but elegant hotel. (It's written by the late Anthony Minghella, to whom the project is dedicated.) 

Natalie Portman also writes and directs a sweet story about an African American (Carlos Acosta) spending time with his daughter, estranged from her mother (Jacinda Barrett). Fatih Akin's short about a gray painter obsessed with a young Chinese woman has visual interest but it's off-putting. Yvan Attal has a twist you won't see coming and gets strong performances out of Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn as a man and woman who meet and flirt over a cigarette outside a restaurant. In the last, written and directed by Joshua Marston, Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman are wonderful, both authentic and funny, as a bickering but loving old Brooklyn couple walking to Brighton Beach. Even if it all doesn't amount to much, cohesively speaking, the stories in "New York, I Love You" hold actual pathos from skilled actors. 

With such a sizable cast, it's to great surprise that it avoids being superficial meetings of movie stars acting together.

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