"New York, I Love You" is a cinematic salon where the topic is the serendipity of romantic possibilities to be found in Manhattan's coffee shops, restaurants, shops, bars and backrooms. Eleven directors (and even more writers) have turned up for the party, offering up 11 distinct tales of the city.
While they ramble on, we sit perched like pigeons with a bird's-eye view of the proceedings, sampling the crumbs thrown in our direction. A few of the movie morsels prove delicious, particularly those from directors Yvan Attal, Shekhar Kapur, Jiang Wen and Fatih Akin; a few of them seem half-baked; and most are never quite enough to completely satisfy, a case of story interruptus, wouldn't you know.
"New York, I Love You" begins, as good New York stories often do, in a taxi. Bradley Cooper hopping in one side, Andy Garcia the other. They are both in a hurry, so they agree to share, with Cooper heading off in director Allen Hughes' piece to figure out whether there's anything more to his steamy one-night stand with Drea de Matteo, while Garcia, in the sequence directed by Wen, is on his way to meet his girlfriend (Rachel Bilson) at a bar where Hayden Christensen turns up with an eye for the girl too.
Wen is the acclaimed Chinese actor turned director whose "Devils on the Doorstep's" look at the Japanese occupation won the 2001 Cannes Grand Prix, and Hughes is half of the Hughes brothers' team who captured the Watts war zone with 1993's "Menace II Society." Radically different filmmakers, yet typical of the eclectic and international mix of contributors here. Both infuse their segments with a blend of hope and cynicism that feels so New York.
That sensibility, as much as the city's familiar landmarks, flows through the film, which is a good thing since a videographer (Emilie Ohana) roaming the city, designed to provide the connective tissue between each of the stories, can't quite manage to tie together all those loose ends.
Producer Emmanuel Benbihy's short story idea is no doubt a tempting one for artists: blank page, a few minutes to tell the tale, a little money, a city, love; you take it from there and we'll call it a movie. And the New York 11 did have the success of predecessor "Paris, je t'aime" as a blueprint with its wish-you-were-here postcard moments strung across the City of Lights, making the experience enchanting. Next up are Rio and Shanghai in 2010, with Jerusalem and Mumbai the year after.
But where "Paris" was the ingenue, fresh-faced and surprising, "New York" needed to come in with the confidence of a more practiced hand, and it never quite manages that. Better to think of it as a day trip rather than an actual film, just a brief, mostly delightful excursion into the city.
The best stories are of the many artists embraced by the city. In Chinatown, Turkish-born German director Akin captures an older artist (Ugur Yucel) in pursuit of his latest muse, an elusive young woman (Shu Qi) he happens upon in a tea shop. On the Upper West Side, Orlando Bloom is a young composer who's struggling when aid comes in the form of a voice (Christina Ricci) on the other end of the phone, in director Shunji Iwai's piece. Both are stories of connections, missed and made -- inspiration found in unexpected places.
And then there is Kapur, who spins a gossamer web around Julie Christie as an aging opera star making a last visit to a beloved hotel, with an attentive bellboy in Shia LaBeouf, an emigre with a withered leg and a soulful mien. Written by the late Anthony Minghella, who had planned to direct, Kapur stepped in after his unexpected death, and it's hard to imagine anyone would have had a finer touch with the material. ("New York" is dedicated to Minghella.)
The film is scattered with performances that are blindingly beautiful and gone before you can take a breath. Robin Wright Penn and Chris Cooper's cigarette break, and Ethan Hawke's street-corner pass at Maggie Q, both in a sequence directed by Attal, are among the unforgettable.
Some of the filmmakers see New York in lighter shades than others. Director Brett Ratner's whimsical prom story spends a good deal of time wheeling through a sun-drenched Central Park, as does Natalie Portman's slight piece, her directing debut, a glance at mistaken identities among the children of the well-heeled.
Even the more predictable prove pleasurable, with the camera trailing the shuffling Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman as they grumble and grouse their way through their Brooklyn neighborhood in director Joshua Marston's look at long-suffering love.
In a sense, Mira Nair's segment is most reflective of the small grace notes and unfinished business of "New York, I Love You." As Portman's young Hassidic bride negotiates with Irrfan Khan's seasoned Indian diamond merchant, an unexpected intimacy begins to develop. And then it is over, an ending where there should be a beginning.
Ah well, there's always Rio.
I Love You'
MPAA rating: R for language and sexual content
Running time: 1 hour,
Playing: In selected theaters