The grand city of New York has always had an affinity with the world of cinema. I only need to look at the countless DVDs on my shelf to instantly pick out several features where a story is set to this magnificent urban backdrop. The Godfather, Manhattan, Rear Window, Doubt, Citizen Kane, Miracle on 34th Street, the list could go on and on. It comes to no surprise to find Emmanuel Benbihy, producer of the elegant ensemble feature Paris, Je t'aime, replicating the same formula on New York giving 11 world renowned film-makers free rein to make their own unique contributions to the beautiful city.
I've always enjoyed reading short stories, or watching short films. Arguably through a sense of laziness on my part, but also because it takes a truly talented soul to get across an entire character's life story in under 10 minutes. There is always that introduction, like a stranger on the street. Then there's the middle where this person is no longer a stranger but a character you've felt like you've known for years. Suddenly, once you think you have them figured out, something unexpected and magical happens, resulting in a satisfying conclusion for both the artist and the audience. Regrettably, similar to its Parisian counterpart, New York I Love You doesn't always get it right however in the moments it does, the film makes for a genuinely moving and heartfelt experience.
While all the stories are very loosely tied together by a video artist played by Emille Ohana, all the shorts are essentially stand alone tales, told in different districts of New York. The highlights include those sparse moments of Bradley Cooper sharing a taxi with any unbeknown stranger, arguing the quickest route to the other side of town. Another is the wonderful tale told by, one of the few American directors listed, Brett Ratner, about young Anton Yelchin going to his senior high school prom - set up on a blind date by his pharmacist, James Caan - with the beautiful yet seemingly disabled Olivia Thirlby. There's that initial awkwardness which quickly turns into quite a beautiful moment between the pair, resulting in a comedic twist, frankly, very few would see coming.
One of my personal favourites however was Ethan Hawke's sly talking, struggling writer, trying - rather well it must be noted - to chat up Maggie Q's sultry mysterious woman over a sharply poised cigarette. The witty exchanges, the vivid descriptions all came intricately into place through screenwriter Oliver Lecot's sophisticated writing along with Israeli director, Yvan Yattal's beautiful use of the camera.
Perhaps the most surprising moment however, comes from Indian auteur Shekhar Kapur's story involving Julie Christie, John Hurt and Shia LeBeouf in a eerily elegant hotel. Surprising not only for its wondrously supernatural twist but also because it is, without doubt, Shia LeBeouf's finest performance of his career that I have certainly seen, and clear evidence there might even be a creditable future beneath being Hollywood's current poster-boy.
But as said, not all the stories quite hit the mark, lacking a degree of cohesion while fitting into the overall feature such as Natalie Portman's acting and directorial entries while Bradley Cooper's own short alongside the gorgeous Drea de Matteo came off more as a prolonged perfume advert for Coco Chanel. Though all the directors taking part did a tremendous job, it perhaps would've been interesting to get a few directors who actually grew up in the city and giving their own personal touch on the film. I'm not even suggesting someone like Woody Allen as he's kindly given us some of the city's finest moments on the big screen already, but just a director who knows the city, as everything about the film did have something of a tourist's portrait to it at times.
New York, I Love You gives the audience a more personal exploration of the world famous city, without the clichés of certain national monuments dominating the background. Unfortunately this comes at a price as the stories, at times, become too generalised and frankly could have been set in London, Paris, Amsterdam or Edinburgh and it would have mattered little. Overall this film won't make me fall in love with New York, but it certainly makes me want to get to know it that tiny bit more.
See This If You Liked...
Manhattan, Paris Je T'aime, Tokyo!
New York, I Love You was part of Belfast's Queen's Film Theatre's BT Surprise Screening and is in selected cinemas across the UK now. American visitors can purchase the film on DVD and Blu-Ray now.