Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Omnibus NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU

(Originally published on In Review Online. You have one more day to see New York, I Love You in Minneapolis, and I'm afraid this review will not give you a compelling reason to run out and see it.)

Directorial collaborations are notoriously uneven and almost always judged by the parts while ignoring the sum. A successful portmanteau relies on either a galvanizing theme (11”9’01) a very specific style (Fears of the Dark) or enough time to gain a sense of nostalgia or film history (Six in Paris 1965, Love in the City 1953.) In almost all cases, however, the shorts feel like half-baked thumbnail sketches from great directors on assignment. Even though New York, I Love You attempts to break out of the slums of omnibus filmmaking by branding itself as “a collective feature film,” it is no different. The film flows in a continuous free-form 103-minute feature without title cards or overt transitions. It may be harder to dissect, but New York is no less uneven. The highs and the lows blur together and it averages out somewhere around mediocre.

The second in a series on ‘the cities of love’ which started with the much more enticing Paris, J’taime and supposedly will head off to Rio de Janeiro, Shanghai, Jerusalem and Mumbai for successive installments. Given two days to shoot, one week to edit and an eight-minute time limit, ten directors pontificate love in the City of Lights. New York starts with a grift triangle by Jiang Wen (Devils on the Doorstep) and ends with a sweet shuffle off to Coney Island by Joshua Marston (Maria Full of Grace) with a predictable mixed bag in between. On the eve of his potential blockbuster The Book of Eli, Allen Hughes turns in the most compelling short starring Bradley Cooper and Drea de Matteo. From different parts of the city, the two depart to a second meeting together after a one-night-stand. With Matteo on the subway and Cooper walking on the streets, they are both buried in their own internal monologue: reliving their first meeting and doggedly refusing to be optimistic about their second meeting. Hughes successfully captures the electric and intimate energy of being alone in a crowd. In addition, Yvan Attal’s simple one-on-one sequence is perfectly pitched as the ultimate pick-up artist (Ethan Hawke) is served a large plate of crow by a none too naïve woman (Maggie Q.) Randall Balsmeyer, primarily a visual effects person, is given the impossible task of connecting the stories and admirably does so with vignettes that occasionally connect characters from separate stories to give a small-world-after-all feeling.

The biggest disappointment is how little New York invokes a sense of place. It wields its secret weapon—The Big Apple, The City that Never Sleeps, Gotham, The Melting Pot—like an uninspired wet noodle. Although each segment is contained within a specific neighborhood, it unfortunately never translates on screen. I’ve never seen New York City look so boring, and, well, so Anglo and straight. Irrfan Khan, Shu Qi, Uğur Yücel, Carlos Acosta and I guess Shia LaBeouf (who plays an immigrant) are the only ethnic representations of the most culturally diverse city in the world. It is hard to believe that the creative muscle behind this film—which includes the aforementioned directors as well as Fatih Akin, Shunji Iwai, Mira Nair and Shekhar Kapur—could only muster a tepid mish-mash that has no spark. New York, I Love You serves best as dramatized runway for the actors where the audience, completely unengaged in the plot, can have a simple moment of excitement as the film doles out the multigenerational stars one at a time. It says a lot when the most exciting moment in the film was when someone behind me said, “Oh my God! It’s Christina Ricci!”

2 comments:

Daniel Getahun said...

Haha, you nailed. I have quite a bit to pick with this one and you've hit on a lot of it.

I wasn't aware of the limits around each film, but that's no excuse for how weak many of them were. And it doesn't explain why Brett Ratner was allowed to direct one.

Kathie Smith said...

Exactly! Although the mix of directors is interesting, some are completely uninspired choices. Makes me wonder (but not wonder enough to research) whether these directors volunteered or were solicited. And, yes, how did Brett Ratner end up on the roster.