Film Review: New York, I Love You

The second installment in the "Cities of Love" franchise, this collage of vignettes breathes life into New York's edgy lovers.

New York, I Love You continues the "Cities of Love" series that began with Paris Je t'Aime, far surpassing it. Though a few of the film's ten vignettes fail to coalesce within their allotted eight minutes and the inevitable final twist becomes predictable, most of these linked "shorts" succeed remarkably in nailing the serendipitous flavor of love, New York-style. At the same time, the ensemble of stories is knitted together by clever transitions or reappearing characters, forming an innovative multi-paneled portrait. The art-house crowd should cotton to the omnibus form and a tone ranging from street-smart to wistful.

The helmers—an eclectic group ranging from Mira Nair to Yvan Attal to Brett Rattner—were bound by a few rules: They had only 24 hours to shoot, a week to edit, and needed to give the sense of a particular neighborhood. Perhaps these strictures have contributed to the film's breathless style, which adds to the sense of a city in overdrive. Though the filmmakers hail from all over, the Gotham conveyed here, curiously, is predominantly young, mainly south of 14th Street, cold and rainy, and populated with nervous types in leather itching to step outside for a smoke.

Two of the strongest stories come from French director Attal. As a romantic pitch-man, Ethan Hawke plies with dirty talk an attractive Asian woman (Maggie Q.) on the curb outside a Soho restaurant. But a wicked reversal suggests she might be better at his game than he is. A second New York moment again finds a man (Chris Cooper) and a woman (Robin Wright Penn) sucking in the nicotine, but this time the woman is hitting on the man. "You know what I always like about New York?" she muses, encapsulating the film's theme. "These little moments on the sidewalk, smoking and thinking about your life… Sometimes you meet someone you feel like you can talk to." On their return to the restaurant, their shared secret is revealed.

In a punchy if vulgar tale by Ratner, James Caan as a pharmacist suckers a young naif into taking his disabled daughter to the prom. Things are never what they seem in these stories, including, in this case, the daughter's agenda. Shekhar Kapur directs a haunting vignette suffused with sadness, with Julie Christie as a former diva installed in a New York hotel, where she's drawn to the lame Russian bellhop, Shia LaBeouf.

Along with the pungent sketches come a few duds: a Mira Nair-helmed encounter between Hassid Natalie Portman and a Jain diamond dealer (for this Portman needn't have shaved her head); Orlando Bloom as a frantic musician on deadline somewhere grungy on the Upper West Side; and Andy Garcia matching wits with Hayden Christensen in a flaccid love triangle. But any misses are redeemed by a touching and humorous final vignette by Joshua Marston, with Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman as an aged couple making their own style of love in a town that belongs to the young.

Most original of all, New York opens a romantic window into the city via a sort of filmmakers' cooperative. The vignettes are tied together into a single feature through a "recurrent character," a videographer who interacts with the other characters. And transitional elements—choreographed by 11th director Randy Balsmeyer—move the viewer from one world to another, uniting all these intimate stories into a single shimmering fabric.