Any cultural inferiority the United States feels toward the French will only be exacerbated by New York, I Love You. The anthology film follows the same model as 2008’s art house hit Paris, Je t’aime in offering a series of tales, mostly about love, on the streets of a cosmopolitan city. Both films showcase directors from around the world, but where Paris features work from such luminaries as the Coen brothers, Alexander Payne and Gus Van Sant, New York gets Brett Ratner.
Granted, New York, I Love You’s roster includes filmmakers more esteemed than the Rush Hour director, including Mira Nair, Fatih Akin and Yvan Attal. But New York has half as many contributors — 11 to Paris’ 21 — and comes across as a more modest film in all other ways as well.
Most of New York’s brief encounters involve some kind of attempted seduction that seldom meets expectations. Over smokes, a pushy writer (Ethan Hawke) makes passes at an elegant beauty (Maggie Q). In a comparable exchange, a brazen blonde (Robin Wright Penn) flirts with a nonplussed businessman (Chris Cooper) during a cigarette break outside an eatery. One gets the feeling that if New Yorkers could still smoke in restaurants, New York, I Love You wouldn't exist.
False notes resound in the film, like honking taxis in a traffic jam. In Ratner’s entry, a meek teenager (Anton Yelchin) takes the daughter of a pharmacist (James Caan) as a blind date to his senior prom, but the short maintains a tone closer to American Pie than Woody Allen. Frequently the audience can see the twists coming a mile away, as in the segment with Bradley Cooper and Drea de Matteo as passionate but uncertain lovers en route to a rendezvous. Julie Christie brings a delicate performance to a similarly predictable vignette about a retired opera singer revisiting an old haunt.
Inadvertently, New York, I Love You emphasizes just how boyish and immature some of our young leading men can come across. Like Hawke’s would-be playa, the film features Shia LeBeouf, Orlando Bloom, Hayden Christensen and actors who come off as overgrown teenagers. We welcome Chris Cooper’s taciturn charisma partly because the film finally gives us a grown-up.
New York, I Love You occasionally captures some telling Manhattan epiphanies, such as the quick scene when Bradley Cooper and Justin Bartha talk over each other to offer a cabbie driving directions. Nair’s segment nicely illustrated New York’s melting pot by depicting the professional friendship in the diamond district between a Jainist and an orthodox Jewish woman (Natalie Portman). Cloris Leachman and Eli Wallach nicely play off each other as a kvetching old couple without building to anything especially new.
In a tip-off that New York, I Love You lacks fresh ideas, one recurring detail involves a woman recording street scenes with a video camera. One suspects that a 90-minute video of actual New York scenes would deliver more drama, diversity and spark than the anthology. When’s the next flight to Paris?