A collection of Big Apple-based stories, interweaved through the small coincidences and shared paths of city life, and sharing a common theme of the universal search for love and romance.
By their very nature, anthology films can be hit and miss — this one being no exception — and can suffer from the lack of a linear plot. This follow-up to 2006’s Paris, Je T’Aime — with Shanghai, I Love You, Jerusalem, I Love You and Rio, Eu Te Amo planned — benefits from its host city’s incomparable magnetism as we navigate vignettes from the quirky, to the sad, to the touching, to the sassy, in the company of a truly stellar cast.
More successful are the cheekier segments, the lighter touch a lovely fit with the bewitching sense of possibility that throbs throughout the city. Jiang Wen presents Hayden Christensen as a highly personable pickpocket, meeting his match in Andy Garcia as he tries to squire The O. C.’s Rachel Bilson. None-more-New-York Ethan Hawke also scores — or does he? — in Yvan Attal’s wordy, witty encounter between an aspiring writer and his smoking (in every sense) objet désir (Maggie Q). Paris Je T’Aime veteran Natalie Portman multi-tasks, starring as a Hasidic woman on the eve of her wedding for Mira Nair, and also making her directorial debut with one of the stronger pieces, following a male dancer (Carlos Acosta) and his young charge on a day trip to Central Park. Hers is a quietly challenging piece, and suggests Portman is a talent to follow behind the camera as much as before.
Also effective are Allen Hughes’ sexy union of Bradley Cooper and Drea de Matteo, a heady mix of doubt and desire, Fatih Akin’s portrait of an artist (Ugur Yücel) finding his muse in Chinese herbalist Shu Qi, Joshua Marston’s sour-sweet yet wistful snapshot of an elderly couple, and Shekhar Kapur’s unsettling segment starring Julie Christie, John Hurt and Shia LaBeouf, scripted by the late Anthony Minghella.
It’s less successful when taking itself too seriously. There’s a self-consciousness about Shunji Iwai’s look at a film score composer (Orlando Bloom) under pressure to read the source novel for his latest movie, not least in Bloom’s performance, while Brett Ratner’s tale of a reluctant teen taking a disabled date to the prom aims for a clever joke but falters with a dicey punchline — though it’s fun to see James Caan as a gruff local shopkeeper in a seeming nod to It’s A Wonderful Life. So, a mixed bag, but one with some quiet triumphs.
As with Paris, Je TAime, New York, I Love You works as both romance film and seductive travelogue, but some will find its arty posturing more maddening than magical.