New York, I Love You
Directed by Jiang Wen, Mira Nair, Shunji Iwai, Yvan Attal, Brett Ratner, Allen Hughes, Shekhar Kapur, Natalie Portman, Fatih Akin, Joshua Marston and Randy Balsmeyer
New York ought to appear in quotes in the title of New York, I Love You, an omnibus film about the Big Apple from the producers of Paris, Je T’Aime, because so few of the interwoven segments that make up the film have a genuine New York sensibility. This isn’t a film by and for New Yorkers, a series of love letters from hometowners and transplants; it’s a shallow portrait sketched by casual admirers, outsiders looking in through clich�ƒ©-tinted lenses. In the first segment, by director Jiang Wen, two characters enjoy a few cigarettes while sitting at a bar. Um, been to the city in the last eight years, Wen? Part of the problem is that so many of the directors who participated are foreigners and non-nativesâ�‚��€�the last time some producers wanted to make a collection of New York-based shorts, they hired Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Woody Allenâ�‚��€�whose portrayals of the city seem filtered through a tourist’s sensibility; they’re filmmakers who think that if they just get off Broadway or ride over the Manhattan Bridge, that they’ve discovered the Real New York. Yet half the film is set in taxis; the other half split between Central Park and West Village bars and cafes. New York is… foreigners who get along! Or, tormented artists! Or, brooding lovers on the subway! Or, any number of other tired stereotypes (an infinite playlist, perhaps?) gleaned mostly from other mediocre movies.
But the directors don’t deserve all the blame: after nearly two decades of rule under Giuliani and Bloomberg, realist portraits of New York (that are heavily focused on middle class white people; there are, seriously, no major African-American characters here) are necessarily dull, set on manicured streets or over bourgeois cappuccinos and cocktails. The hookers have websites. The most successful segmentsâ�‚��€�excepting Joshua Marston’s, centered on bickering Brighton Beach seniors, beautifully acted by Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachmanâ�‚��€�are those that trade in stylization and magical realism, like Shekhar Kapur’s chapter about a former opera star’s hallucinatory stay in a baroque hotel, hazily lighted and immaculately framed by cinematographer Benoit Debie. But the finest sequence in the whole movie might be, I kid you not, Brett Ratner’s, about a teenage schlub (Anton Yelchin, his generation’s most underrated actor) who takes a girl in a wheelchair (Olivia Thirbly) to his senior prom at Tavern on the Green, followed by a boozy night in The Park. The characters are broad, the situations absurd, and the plot twist a head-slapper. But even for those of us that were born here, New York is still as much a fantasyland as a place called home, a romance and a reality. Like the Wes Anderson who made The Royal Tenenbaums, it’s those who understand that sense of wonder’s co-existence with drab materialism, the comedy and the drama, who truly understand New Yorkâ�‚��€�not those who simply wallow in the exhausted conventions of disaffected artists and alienated immigrants.
Opens October 16