Thursday, December 24, 2009

New York, I Love You review

My review of New York, I Love You was in last week's Fast Forward Weekly in Calgary.

New York, you’re pretty alright, I guess

Cinematic mash note isn’t quite ready to be loved

In 2007, Paris, Je T'Aime made gentle waves in arty film circles, rightfully congratulated for its collection of Paris-based short films crafted by indie directors and packaged together as a loving ode to the French metropolis.

Americans have answered back with New York, I Love You, a hit-and-miss anthology of love stories. Meant to be a celebration of New York's frenetic energy, the film insists on uniting all of the shorts through a single, stubborn, wisp-thin thread (a quirky artist filmmaker who appears throughout) that ultimately forms a noose around the whole damn collection.

There are some notable standouts to be found. Among the highlights is Yvan Attal's sexy and sad encounter between Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn, who is absolutely stunning as a woman crushed by the distance growing between her and her husband. Anton Yelchin and Olivia Thirlby star in Brett Ratner's allegedly semi-autobiographical ode to an unconventional prom night. The young actors are unpretentious and charming as teens who grapple with an awkward blind date, an ex-girlfriend and wheelchair sex.

Even some of New York's weakest shorts have elements that work, such as Ugur Yücel’s haunting performance as a painter obsessed with a young Chinese herbalist. Drea de Matteo and Bradley Cooper make the most of their weak storyline about two strangers contemplating turning their one-night stand into a relationship, using their incredible chemistry to practically set the screen ablaze when they hit the sheets. Natalie Portman is luminous but miscast as Rifka, a Hasidic Jew resigned to marrying a man she doesn't love, spending the day before her wedding flirting with the Indian diamond dealer in Mira Nair's short.

Ultimately, New York saves its best short for last with Joshua Marston's brilliant, bittersweet vignette about a hilarious and bristling elderly married couple (the incomparable Cloris Leachman and Eli Wallach) simply taking a walk. If only New York was comprised entirely of self-contained films, like Paris, Je T'Aime, the two movies side by side might have been the equivalent of the Empire State Building versus the Eiffel Tower. Instead, New York drags on, and becomes almost a parody of itself by trying so hard to make sure the audience gets it. We're hit over the head with a clichéd, feel-good ending courtesy of a rooftop party where that quirky artist screens her film and all the characters come together. If only New York's editors had trusted American audiences to be as clever as the French.

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