I’m a sucker for a cute love story, especially when the setting is a city with which I also happen to have a romance. New York, I Love You is the second in the Cities of Love series conceived by Emmanuel Benbihy. Like the first installment, Paris, je t’aime, it features a series of shorts by a medley of directors. While the former has received mixed reviews, I had to see it for myself. Boasting such directors as Alfonso Cuarón, Gus Van Sant, and Tom Tywker, I had fallen in love with the latter. This time around, the line-up includes directors such as Mira Nair, Shekhar Kapur, Jiang Wen, Joshua Marston, and even Natalie Portman. It’s hard to say whether my love for either film stems from a real appreciation of the work itself, or whether it is my own emotional response to two beloved cities—nostalgia for Paris, an old friend, or comfortable familiarity for New York, my current home. Regardless of whichever category you may fall into, the range of directors is enough for anyone to find at least one short to which they can relate and enjoy.
What I had loved about Paris, je t’aime is its international perspective, with the shorts featuring a range of languages and cultures within Paris. I had expected the same from New York, I Love You. While non-native New Yorkers certainly play a role, most of the segments are in English. I was expecting at least one short entirely in Spanish, but surprisingly found none. Another point on which the two films diverge is the level of unity between the shorts. New York, I Love You spends too much time on transitions that are meant to better connect the distinctive stories and characters to the whole. Yet, in the end, these transitions divert too much time away from the individual pieces.
As much as I appreciate the theme of love, many of the directors from New York, I Love You tend to take this requirement literally. Mira Nair’s moment between Irfan Khan and Natalie Portman’s characters, while moving and poignant, seemed to come out of nowhere. What could have been a slight brush stroke of love—one that might have implied its repression within two distinct communities—became a literal and unbelievable kiss between a Hasidic woman and an Indian man. And where was the love for New York, particularly, as something other than a peripheral concept? One of my favorite shorts in Paris, je t’aime invites us into the inner monologue of a lonely tourist—a U.S. postal worker speaking in heavily accented French—as she falls in love with the city.
Perhaps one of my favorites was Shekhar Kapur’s Hotel Suite—also dubbed “worst of show” by NPR’s Scott Tobias. The cinematography is breath taking, and the quiet, deliberate pace allows you time to appreciate it. While playing with the transience of both memory and time, white light and curtains ruffling in the breeze of a conspicuously peaceful fifth avenue add to Kapur’s suggestion of temporal love.
Another favorite is one that Tobias also categorizes as an example of the film’s many “moony-eyed romances with quirky conceits,” directed by Joshua Marston and starring Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachman. The seasoned actors provide wonderfully funny performances as they banter their way toward a sweet Brooklyn moment, effectively suggesting an unconventional, yet enduring, love story.
While not all the pieces of New York, I Love You are entirely believable or creative, the whole picture left me with a feeling of contentment. While I don’t agree with Scott Tobias’s review of the film, our disagreement is an example of how the anthology film format allows something for everyone. Whether you love the city or not—but especially if you do—I highly suggest checking it out for yourself.