Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"New York, I Love You" ...but not for what's in this movie

New York is a complicated place, and "New York, I Love You" offers only half the story.

It's rare that I can accompany my husband to a screening of a new film, given my criteria of no violence, no suspense and no slapstick.  I was lured to this one by the promise of romantic vignettes set in a city I greatly enjoy.  The second in a series of "Cities of Love" by "Paris, Je T'aime" producer Emmanuel Benbihy, this flick doesn't, however, spare any love for New York.

Instead, it offers ten mini-stories by ten different directors, linked only by contrivance, collectively portraying NY as depressing and tense.  Of them, only two even bring a smile: a verbose pick-up outside a bar with Ethan Hawke and Maggie Q, and a pressured "take my daughter (Olivia Thirlby) to the prom" that the young escort (Anton Yelchin) finds especially memorable. Overall, there's little joy in The City.

In fact, a heartland viewer might think the Apple offers mainly bars, street chaos and desperation, that smoking is de rigeur, and nobody has a regular-hours job.  The only religious people portrayed in the film--Hasidic Jews--are even weirder than their fur-cylinder hats: In that segment, diamond-buyer Natalie Portman confides intimately in her east Indian Jain supplier (Irfan Kahn), while perpetrating the ridiculous myths that kosher food is blessed, and that ultra-orthodox married women shave their heads.

Though I've never lived in New York, I've been there countless times, walking the length of Broadway from Columbia University down to Battery Park.  Family members live there; I've gone regularly over the years to meet with magazine and book editors, hawking my proposals or working on projects.  It's a great place to visit, and even to live, I'd think, for a limited time, because the New York I've seen is nothing like the dark, dispiriting quest for connection the characters in this film depict.

That's why I left this movie feeling down.  Perhaps half the NY story is  pickpockets, struggling artists, smoking, an urgent play for sex and love, and those ubiquitous bars.  Yes, lots of ugly things happen in a metropolis.

But equally available, and not even grazed in the film, are the energized achievers drawn toward an intellectually vibrant magnet; the clever designers, inspired artists, engaged thinkers who make NY the most stimulating place on the planet.  Nowhere in this movie was there a family; only one child even had a role, in a single, confusing segment.  Religion got its brief, bizarre appearance in that solitary Jewish piece, in which we glimpse the Hasidic woman's strange, slow-mo wedding reception, and learn the gem salesman's wife left to become a street-begging nun.

The five- to eight-minute scenarios, with no backstory or character development, conveyed the message that people in NY are flat, rude, hedonistic and socially inadroit.  Artsy close-ups of lips, nostrils and drags on cigarettes get tiresome. Even watching Cloris Leachman and Eli Wallach as the obligatory long-married old couple is stressful with its nonstop monologue of nagging. Can't anyone be happy?

FYI, New York is alive with enthusiasm, dynamism, creativity, spiritual attainment, and satisfied, joyful citizens.  Too bad the film ends before we find any of them.


  1. :)

    There are many things I wish were different in New York, and there are many reasons why I'd wish to live out of town, but there is much to love about New York, too. In no way is it a dead, depressing city. New York is alive, colorful, active, thriving, and churning out the fruits of greatly talented people. And despite the stereotype, most New Yorkers I've come across in the street have been extremely friendly and nice. :)

  2. So, what did you really think (about the movie)?

  3. Wow, too bad! I was really looking forward to this movie (party cause one of my childhood best friends worked on it). Anyway, just wanted to add that one thing I was surprised to notice, when I went back home last month after a long absence, was the ridiculous number of happy little children running around...I saw several families with three kids and a pregnant mom, for example, in the Columbia U. neighborhood. So heartwarming. Smooches!!!