New York, I Love You

Directors: Shekhar Kapur, Allan Hughes, Yvan Attal, Brett Ratner, Natalie Portman, tons more …
Starring: Natalie Portman, Andy Garcia, James Caan, Chris Carter, Orlando Bloom, Christina Ricci, Hayden Christensen, Eli Wallach, tons more …

The producers of the charming collection of vignettes Paris Je T’Aime take on New York, creating a film that may be slightly less offbeat (100 percent fewer sexy vampires) but that weaves together its stories through overlap of characters and a thematic focus on love. With a diverse group of actors and directors, the result is a bag of varied delights that not only stitches together eleven short films, but adds it all up in a way that isn’t pat, but still feels satisfying. There are loose threads, sections that feel less like complete stories than fleeting vignettes, and a few that fail to blend seamlessly with the others, but that’s an acceptable risk with a project that has enough ambition to not straightjacket its multiple sets of storytellers. That you don’t end up thinking, “Well, that was a mess,” is an achievement in itself.

New York, I Love You has a charming and attractive cast, and an elegant way of weaving figures in and out of each others’ stories in a way that feels natural and that drives home the idea that it’s all happening in the same city. And it’s an interesting mix of directors. You’ve got the guy who directed X-Men 3 (and the entire Rush Hour oeuvre) and the woman who directed Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake. You got the guy who directed Cate Blanchett in the two Elizabeth movies, and you have Natalie Portman, who’s never directed anybody in anything. You’ve got half the Hughes Brothers and, um, other people whose stuff I haven’t seen (sorry!).

The stories are an interesting range. We open with a crime story, because if it’s New York, you gotta have the tough guys, and Andy Garcia manages to both be a tough guy and a regular guy, and the sequence is humorous and bright, a nod to some NYC cliches that doesn’t actually wallow in them. Then Natalie Portman acts in (but doesn’t direct) a humorous tale of cross-culture longing. We meet struggling writers, method actresses, hookers, artists, a middle-aged couple, an elderly couple, the broken-down staff of a boutique hotel, and a broad swath of immigrants.

Highlights include a scene between Chris Cooper and Robin Wright Penn that, after a critical revelation, manages to encapsulate the full range of two shared lives in a series of wordless images, Julie Christie as a beautiful former opera star enveloped in a fog of elegant sadness, and Cloris Leachman and Eli Wallach, magnificent as a squabbling old Jewish couple that are a cliché brought to life, but still an utter and original delight.

The film is not a singular narrative, but an impressionistic take, and it works. The producers apparently did a Tokyo version that I’ll have to track down, and I assume that if this is successful, they’ll work their way around the globe: Barcelona, Te Amo, Prague, Miluji Te, and Birmingham, Y’all So Purty. Sign me up for ’em all.