After the success of the anthology film Paris, Je T'Aime, the "Cities of Love" series makes a natural transition to another of the world's most romantic towns: New York. The setting for love stories from An Affair to Remember to Annie Hall, New York's streets have long been a haven for cinematic love. New York, I Love You draws 11 directing talents, including German-Turkish auteur Fatih Akin, blockbuster filmmaker Brett Ratner, and indie newcomer Joshua Marston.
More cohesive than its Parisian predecessor, New York, I Love You intertwines its narratives, turning the anthology film into a more traditional feature with characters and plots threading their way through the film. Chinese actor/director Jiang Wen's story begins the anthology, casting Hayden Christensen as a pickpocket in Tribeca who uses his talents to woo the girlfriend (Rachel Bilson) of his victim (Andy Garcia). The Diamond District is the setting for Mira Nair's brief but intense interaction between an Indian diamond seller (Irrfan Khan) and a Hasidic woman (Natalie Portman) on the eve of her wedding. Other stories include Yvan Attal's SoHo could-be coupling between two smokers (Ethan Hawke and Maggie Q), Allen Hughes' West Village-set tale about two people (Bradley Cooper and Drea de Matteo) wondering if a one-night stand could be something more, and Akin's somber study of a Chinatown artist (Ugur Yücel) who struggles to paint the eyes of his muse (Shu Qi). Shekhar Kapur's beautifully shot Upper East Side fairy tale finds an aging opera star (Julie Christie) having an eerie encounter with a hotel bellhop (Shia LaBeouf).
However, this film's more unified approach makes the transition to incompatible shorts that much more jarring. Ratner casts likable young actors Anton Yelchin and Olivia Thirlby in his story about a high school student who takes his pharmacist's wheelchair-bound daughter to his high school prom. But their acting talent is wasted, with a story that is unnecessarily dominated by its poorly scripted narration. The film's other biggest problem is its beginning; with talented actors like Christie, Eli Wallach, John Hurt, and Chris Cooper, it's a major misstep to begin New York, I Love You with the balsa-like performances of real-life loves Bilson and Christensen.
New York, I Love You should be applauded for including the city's famous ethnic diversity in its stories, and its international cast and crew reflect that same variety. This is an impressive undertaking, but it's unfortunate that the results manage to be far less than the sum of their parts.