New York, overly fictionalized

The latest instalment of Emmanual Benbihy’s urban anthology films attempts to connect the lives of lonely New Yorkers

Boasting an overwhelming 11 vignettes, at times New York, I Love You blends together.
Boasting an overwhelming 11 vignettes, at times New York, I Love You blends together.
Credit: 
Supplied
Natalie Portman is one of the members of New York, I Love You’s all-star cast.
Natalie Portman is one of the members of New York, I Love You’s all-star cast.
Credit: 
Supplied

New York, I Love You is the second installment in a franchise of urban anthology movies, which has included Paris and is scheduled to go into production in Rio, Shanghai, Mumbai and Jerusalem—all produced by Emmanuel Benbihy.

I’m still hoping for an instalment in Winnipeg, but we’ll see about that.

It’s hard to say what makes anthology films work. Where 2006’s Paris, je t’aime soars, New York, I Love You seems to fall flat. There’s an attempt to connect all of the lonely souls of New York City in each of the 11 vignettes, which is something Paris, je t’aime didn’t attempt to do. I think because of this attempt New York, I Love You tends to blend together, like an unedited work of undergraduate fiction rather than a crafted film script.

For the most part, each short piece takes place in a visitor-friendly part of New York City. Apparently there’s no hope for love in the Bronx, Staten Island or Queens—Brooklyn, a borough dubbed the new Manhattan, is just barely explored. Another blending aspect to the love stories is their extreme conventionality. Some investigate platonic love, affairs or intergenerational relationships, but the majority of the actors are white and the love is heterosexual.

From my limited exposure to New York City, I saw an array of diverse people, neighbourhoods and types of love. New York has been called a city of losers and outcasts, where misfits escape to, but from this film you don’t get any sense of the vibrant culture of people dwelling in this famous city. To be honest, you might be able to pick them up and place them in any other generic city, even—dare I say it—Toronto.

I’m being a little harsh. New York, I Love You does feature some talented filmmakers and some interesting attempts at provoking thought—it’s just that they all seem to run together and follow the same story progression. Notable filmmakers include Yvan Attal from France, Jiang Wen from China and America’s own Natalie Portman. There’s inevitably a twist at the end of each segment and once you get into the groove of the film, you get better and better at guessing what it might be. The style of the film also seems to be the same, whereas in Paris, je t’aime each segment looked different; New York is seen through the same lens—literally.

Portman’s segment chronicles the life of a ballet-dancer who meets a black father facing the racial difference between himself and his white child. Often mistaken for a “Manny,” the father is constantly faced with classist assumptions from white mothers at the playground. This film could have easily sustained my interest, but instead an interracial relationship is a twist at the end, rather than an issue.

New York’s problems and gritty crevices are often glossed over in narrative mainstream filmmaking and New York, I Love You is no exception. Stories that seem like they could actually be interesting to watch for 90 minutes are cut short and aren’t given the depth they deserve.

Another segment starring an adorable young couple played Anton Yelchin and Olivia Thirlby also has potential. Thirbly, who is bound to a wheelchair, goes to an Upper East Side private school prom despite her inability to dance. But in the end, Thirbly’s character’s handicap turns out to be nothing more than method acting exercise and the meat of the story is disregarded entirely.

Overall the stories are uneven and the interesting ones are cut short. The transitions attempts to get the audience to react in an, “look-everyone-is-connected” sort of way, which has been overdone in other films like Love, Actually. But despite all its mistakes, something about this film will inevitably appeal to movie-goers. Perhaps it’s all those beautiful shots of Manhattan that will make you wish you were there, or the standard overdone love stories that will numb you into a pleasant 103-minute experience.

I’d rather visit the city than watch this rather tame fictionalized account of it.

New York, I Love You opens at The Screening Room this Friday night. Shows are at 7 p.m. and 9:35 p.m.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.