At first the idea of a film with no true plot, just a series of vignettes that revolve around one city and features several different directors and famous actors seems like a bad idea. It feels old and hack, and I think I’ve seen it before but much to my surprise New York, I Love You really pulls it off in a captivating and interesting way. The film, which is based on the popular "Paris, je t'aime," features segments by Hollywood directors like Brett Ratner, Allen Hughes and Natalie Portman as well as international filmmakers such as Jiang Wang, Shekhar Kapur and Fatih Akin. It also features marvelous performances by Shia LaBeouf, Hayden Christensen, Chris Cooper, Maggie Q, Julie Christie, Robin Wright Penn, Ugur Yucel and Cloris Leachman.
The film, as the title suggests centers on New York and it does a great job of capturing the feeling, sprit and mood of the city. The production itself was bizarre by Hollywood standards because each of the eleven directors had a strict set of rules they had to follow to shoot their piece. 1) Each story had to be visually identified with one or more New York avenues. 2) Each story had to involve some kind of love encounter, broadly defined. 3) There would be no fades to black at the end or beginning of any segment. 4) Each director, along with their chosen DP and cast, would shoot for two days and two days only. 5) Then, that director would head to the editing facility with his or her chosen editor and edit for seven days, while a new director and cast would start shooting. 6) The below-the-line crew would be the same for each production through the exhilarating eight-week shoot.
Since there are eleven different segments and so many great performances I’ll just take the time to mention a few. Hayden Christensen gives a very interesting performance as a street hustler in a segment shot in Chinatown by director Jiang Wen. Christensen’s character becomes attracted to a woman played by Rachel Bilson but when he pursues her he meets his match in her older street hustler boyfriend (Andy Garcia). Christensen’s performance is impressive because it’s not what we’re used to from the actor. He gives up his trademark battiness for a strange characterization that is both brave and perhaps unnecessary but still works in an odd way. He takes a big swing with this role that might or might not work but is still interesting to watch non-the less. Maggie Q gives a wonderful performance as a sure of herself prostitute as do Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn as strangers who may know more about each other than you think in a segment by Yvan Attal. Natalie Portman is equally brave in a role that utilizes her, often, shaved head as she plays an Hasidic Jewish diamond dealer about to be married in a piece by Mira Nair. Portman’s own directed segment, which she also wrote, is quite good playing off of the stereotypes of people’s assumptions about the modern day family.
One of the funniest segments in the film comes from "X-Men: The Last Stand" director Brett Ratner. His piece is about a teenage boy who’s only wish, to loose his virginity on Prom Night, is shattered when his girlfriend breaks up with him and he is forced to take a wheelchair bound girl from his neighborhood, who may have a few secrets of her own. It is important to note that Ugur Yucel is riveting to watch as a painter obsessed with a local Chinese girl in a segment by Fatih Akin. Also quite touching are the performances by veteran screen actor Eli Wallach and Oscar winner Cloris Leachman as an aging couple visiting the spot where they first fell in love on their anniversary in a piece by Joshua Marston.
But it is the performance of two actors in particular that impressed me in this film, the always amazing Julie Christie and believe it or not, Shia LaBeouf. Yes, that Shia LaBeouf. Say what you will about the "Transformers" star but he is both charming and fascinating as a hunchbacked, Russian hotel bellhop that Christie takes a fancy to in a segment written by the late Anthony Minghella and directed by Shekhar Kapur. LaBeouf shows off a quite tenderness that is in great contrast to his current on-screen persona and Christie and he share some wonderful moments. Christie herself is both subtle and captivating as a once great woman coming to terms with her faded youth and her place in the world.
The different stories and segments in the film are pulled together by transition pieces that were well directed by Randy Balsmeyer and feature most of the films cast at one point or another. This goes a long way to making the film work as one fluent story. In the end New York, I Love You works on two levels, first, it is an interesting experiment in filmmaking and secondly, it is a captivating and intriguing film that will leave the audience wanting more. The segments are well executed by all the writers, directors and actors involved and very few cities in the world have the majesty and diversity necessary to sustain a film like this and New York certainly is the right subject for this movie. New York, I Love You is a rarity in experimental filmmaking, it’s one that works and the performances and its fine storytelling should not be overlooked in this upcoming award season.