Paris, Je T'aime is a charming homage to the City of Lights, an anthology film that emphasizes each segment as viewing the city through varied, enamored eyes -- and it's proud of that fact. A sense of anticipation permeates the picture, allowing us to ponder how the likes of the Cohen Brothers, Wes Craven, and Tom Tykwer will integrate their zeal for the city into a collage of love, heartbreak, and everyday activity. It's this enthusiasm for the original that sparked New York, I Love You, the second of a presupposed series of metropolitan love-letters in their "Cities of Love" series; however, the love shown to the Big Apple is more self-seeking -- and oddly dissatisfying -- than the warm draw of Paris, Je T'aime.
Part of what makes New York, I Love You different from its predecessor is a shift from segmented visions to one grand, sweeping painting of the town's hustle 'n bustle, which takes the anthology's segmented style and strings them all together into an interconnected row of dominoes. That's, sadly, part of the beauty of the first picture, taking each of the director's talents and capturing the city in their eyes, which is something that's shoved aside in lieu of forced connectivity here. Characters reappear throughout this odd-handed connected slew of people -- painters, writers, senior citizens, prostitutes, Jewish jewelry brokers, smokers, and one-night-standers -- and it all comes together in a somewhat sweet composition, but otherwise woefully ho-hum and a little pompous.
There are a few stories that steer away from the grand scheme of things, standing on their own legs as well-built individual stories. Mira Nair's segment, which finds a soon-to-be-married Jewish diamond broker (Natalie Portman) haggling with an Indian exchange merchant on 47th Street, ensnares her capacity to render beautifully emotional banter within elegant cinematography and musical accompaniment. Fatih Akin's portrait of a dying artist who has found his muse, a reluctantly bashful Chinese herbalist, compels with its sense of hope surrounding the search for artistic expression. Probably the most cohesive and sweetly tender out of the bunch, Shunji Iwai's story of a struggling musician (Orlando Bloom) tossing flirty back-and-forths with his boss' assistant (later revealed to be Christina Ricci) satisfies on a cutesy, somewhat reflexive level. And, riding there at the end, Joshua Marston's piece featuring two bickering older people, played with grace by Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman, is a charmer.
The rest of the segments in New York, I Love You -- including the cheeky, bland transitions directed by Brett Ratner -- fail to find either a meeting of the minds or mold into a satisfying mosaic of the town. Ratner also directs a rom-com segment that covers a mousy, recently dumped boy (Anton Yelchin) who's agreed to take the daughter (Olivia Thirlby) of a pharmacist (James Caan) to his high-school prom -- only later learning that she's in a wheelchair. His direction is unsure and sloppy, hamming up all of the performances into more of a ridiculous nuisance than an eccentricity. Conversely, Shekhar Kapur takes up where the recently-deceased Anthony Minghella would've directed in a segment about a suicidal woman (Julie Christie) and her conversations with a young Russian immigrant (Shia LeBouf). Its obscurity, along with an unclear existential conclusion, takes it far away from the core essence of the picture, not to mention a foreign turn from LeBouf that's laughable.
Oddly, much of the picture also follows a similar visual design, draped in dark contrast and a persistent amber coating, which neuters the creative potential in New York, I Love You. As mentioned before, some of the standalone stories work well outside of the attempt at a seamless six-degrees-of-separation dynamic, and these sequences are photographed with a higher appeal than the others -- such as the gorgeous cinematography in Mira Nair's segment, which echoes her signature close-ups and vying green shades within the image. Emphasis falls on the few, assorted high points in this assembly because of their unintentional standout design, but the bad part of it is that wishy-washy enamored energy just falls flat. It might navigate us through the subways, alleys, loft apartments and smoky streetsides, but it's more about being pleased with its blunt, stereotypical aesthetic than really drawing us into the allure of the Big Apple.
New York, I Love You contains work from the following directors: Fatih Akin
Yvan Attal, Randall Balsmeyer, Allen Hughes, Shunji Iwai, Jiang Wen, Shekhar Kapur, Joshua Marston, Mira Nair, Natalie Portman, and Brett Ratner. Segments from Scarlett Johansson and Andrei Zvyagintsev didn't make it in the final cut, but are available in the special features of the home video presentations.
Video and Audio:
Though released day and date with an Blu-ray presentation, New York, I Love You offers an sharp, correctly colored image that walks step-for-step with its HD counterpart. Contrast becomes an important element throughout this 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, which aptly embraces dark elements around the nighttime New York locales. The image leans heavily on either heavy-saturated yellows, blues, and dark browns or very low-saturation, cold color timing for daytime sequences, both gradients preserved accurately. It's a little hazy in a few sequences and grain comes close to becoming more powerful than natural film grain, but mostly this is an excellent standard-definition image.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track actually grasps a hold of a fair level of activity, from the wide array of musical accompaniments to the locational sound effects -- tram sound effects, the bustle of a busy street at night, and others. Dialogue balances in between these elements, sliding in between them with nice clarity that only have audibility issues once or twice in the film. It's not as impressive as the visual transfer, but this track supports the sound design just fine. No other subtitles are available, aside from the burned-in languages inherent in the film itself.
Bonus Segments (16x9):
Two "deleted" segments from New York, I Love You have been included on this DVD presentation of the film -- shorts from Scarlett Johansson (11:43) and Andrei Zvyagintsev (13:31). Johansson's segment follows Kevin Bacon as a twitchy resident in the city as he goes through his everyday motions, from picking up a pack of cigarettes to his Nathan's hotdog. It's not badly shot or acted, but its simplicity leaves one feeling a bit empty. It's ridiculous, however, that Andrei Zvyagintsev's installment wasn't included in the actual film itself, because this short is spellbinding. The director of The Return (Vozvrashchenie) gives us a story about a filmmaker enthusiast with a handcam who photographs strangers -- which allows his viewfinder to capture a couple in the middle of a break-up. It features Carla Gugino with an excellent facial acting turn, while also projecting beautiful landscape shots of the city in the background.
Also available are Interviews (16:25) with Brett Ratner, Yvan Attal, Joshua Marsten, Mira Nair, and Shuni Iwai, as well as the original Theatrical Trailer (2:00, 16x9).
Though from the same producers as Paris, Je T'aime as a continuation of their "Cities of Love" series, New York, I Love You is a less artistically intriguing, mixed-matched decoupage of the city's identifiable elements. A few pieces stand out from the mix, but as a whole piece of work it's not as satisfying as its predecessor -- largely due to its attempt to interconnect and streamline the stories, which has the opposite effect. Vivendi's standard-definition presentation offers excellent video and audio, as well as offering a few bonus segments available in the original film. However, that can't help the fact that it'd be an unsatisfying picture to revisit, which only earns it a firm suggestion for a Rental.