Movies, je t’aime.
For lots of people, New York City is a magical place, like Cinderella’s castle (but not in Orlando or Anaheim). These streets will make you feel brand new! Big lights will inspire you! Big lights DO inspire people. Some of the most important literature/art/film of the past 2,000 years has to deal with New York City. Specifically, Sex and the CITY (capitals mine) and the MTV hit show THE CITY (capitals mine again, but really the capitals of THE CITY should be everyone’s. It’s like The Hills without the intrigue, get excited!). Those creative types love New York City and want to show New York City through their lenses and pens (Originally, I tried to make it “lens and penses” but that just seems like some archaic, naughty plural I don’t want to get into until I reach the fifth grade). So, in the I Less Than Three NY tradition comes New York, I Love You.
Man, that Phoenix song is everywhere, y’all.
The film is based on the premise of 2006’s Paris, je t’aime, which set about to present twenty short films each based on one of the twenty arrondissements of Paris. Except that two of them weren’t very good or something, so there were eighteen short films. There wasn’t much in those other two districts I’m told, just lots of silly humans. I actually found one of the cut segments and I thought it was really good! You be the judge.
So, the producer was thinking big producer dreams and decided, “Let’s do this with another city. A city that uses English! Howabout, London, I Jolly Do Well Love Thee.” but then realized Love Actually was already a movie. “I guess New York will have to do.”
Directors were gathered, scripts written, actors brought in. Show us what you got, Big Apple!
Admittedly, I have never seen Paris, je t’amie (Freedom Fries these colors don’t run!) so I do not know if the movie succeeded in its composition or aims. The organizing structure became looser in the case of New York so that every director had to focus primarily on a different neighborhood. The film becomes, to paraphrase Henry James, a loose baggy Hayden Christensen.
But that’s not a bad thing! It’s the nature of the beast. An attempt is made to wrap all of the films together, but it works as more of a strain than a bond. While the film lacks a strong unity, little thematic elements manage to pop up a couple of times such as the idea of immigration in New York, little moments meeting people on the streets, the wonder of the city, and fucking.
The film starts with the reunion of the stars of the century’s most beloved romantic tale (Jumper). Rachel Bilson gets followed by Hayden Christensen with a creepiness that only a Sith could know. HC’s character uses petty theft as an icebreaker, but soon Andy Garcia doing his best Andy Garcia from Ocean’s 11 & 13 (not 12) and totally c-blocks Hayden. Short story short, Andy is cheating on his wife with Rachel (she just can’t get him to leave his wife! Is this the only role Rachel Bilson gets these days? The Last Kiss much?) and is also a better thief than Hayden so, morality everyone.
Natalie Portman acts in one short and directs another. Both are great. Wow, newsflash, Natalie Portman is good at movie things. Damn dudes, call me when she does something new like judges on Top Chef or sumthin (UPDATE: She’s judging on Top Chef!).
Sidebar: When Natalie Portman was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone, she told a story about how everyone on the Harvard student board wanted Dave Matthews Band to come play but Natalie wanted to bring Outkast. That’s the sort of thing my mom calls a good problem, Natalie!
Bradley Cooper and Drea DeMatteo star in one of the more explicit clips. There was nakedity, sure, but the most shocking thing in their scenes was the use of internal monologue. Both actors are good as we know from The Sopranos and Joey and Alias, but it was weird to hear their “inner voices” over-explain the story and phrase things in a manner you think you would never phrase your own thoughts (sort of like that sentence).
The most confusing of all the pieces was the John Hurt/ Julie Christie/ Shia LeBeouf short film. The city itself was almost entirely absent since the story was set in a hotel. Even when windows in the hotel were opened, a white light flooded the room effectively shutting out the city. Symbolism, I postulate. Julie plays a singer and Shia plays a Russian bellboy with a leg affliction (Franklin Delano Stevens, right?). There were some beautiful moments, but I couldn’t get past (SPOILERZ) the feeling that Shia LeBeouf was totally going to fuck Julie Christie. I missed the point, as I found out in the vignette’s SHOCKING conclusion.
Last night, my favorite part was the prom story starring Anton Yelchin and Olivia Thirlby (Sidenote: Did Olivia Thirlby commit some sort of a crime recently and is considered a flight risk? Everything I see her in is shot in New York and by everything, I mean Bored to Death, The Wackness, and now this movie. In one movie, she’s up in Brooklyn, then, in another, she’s down in Tribeca, next to DeNiro!).
Anton Yelchin:Making everyone root for him. James Caan from televisions Las Vegas: Making a Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can. Their short flipped the typical teen comedy genre around in a city setting while showing that such tropes could still work (Take that suburbs). While it was a bit contrived, it was cute and fun and aww. I was taken by the whole thing. Then I found who directed it. . . .
Check out this motherfucker. Brett Ratner directed the teen comedy part of the film. That killed me since Brett Ratner and I have sort of a relationship that’s like Che Guevara with bling on; it’s complex.
Sure, Brett Ratner has a bunch of good things on his resume, such as directing credits for Mariah Carey’s “Heartbreaker” video and the Wu-Tang Clan’s “Triumph” video, but he also directed X-Men: The Last Stand. That movie aches my heartsoul! I love the X-Men, Ellen Page, and adventure. All those things were in the movie, but alas! I did not love it. Brett Ratner cuts deep.
Doing some research (aka scanning MetaCritic), showed me some things. Critically, New York, I Love You seems to be getting a bunch of guff for being inconsistent and giving, at best, a cursory look at the city. Unsurprisingly, the hardest critics are from the New York papers. My boy, A.O. Scott, kills it with the snark noting “The pieces of New York, I Love You make up a parallel city that no one would want to live in, much less visit.” Me-ow A.O! My favorite snippet comes from the Daily News’ Elizabeth Weitzman, who writes “Anyone who actually adores New York is unlikely to appreciate this disappointingly bland collection of shorts, which might as well have been called ‘Madrid, Te Amo’ or ‘Cincinnati, You’re the Best.'” Hittin’ the Queen City where it hurts!
Sort of like the mathematical expression (a/b)/(c/d), my relationship with New York City is complex. Living on Long Island gives both a familiarity with New York City and a suburban fear of it. From my experience, lots of Long Islanders don’t take advantage of the city as much as they can or would like. However, this relationship is similar to the relationship that New York City’s citizens have with their metropolis. In both cases, there is a keen awareness of NEW YORK and what it means to an individual life. That individuality and awareness is not easily qualified in one emotion or one interaction. New York, I Love You does its best to try and capture the ineffable. Lots of nice moments and scenes that are worthy of being seen and appreciated come from this exercise but the film cannot pass out of simple representation to become its own special entity.