What to make of omnibus/anthology films such as New York, I Love You?
Do you judge them by the best of the short films contained within? Or by the worst? Do you grade the effort as a whole? Individually? On a curve? Do you approach it as a single work or as several works in one?
For that matter, what makes a short film work? Would these short films work on their own - or do they only make sense in the context of this frame, in which the 10 films all deal with the subject of love?
Interesting questions, all.
New York, I Love You is meant as a trans-Atlantic companion to Paris, I Love You, the 2006 entry from the producer of both films, Emmanual Benbihy. But where that film offered an assortment of international directing stars (Isabel Coixet, the Coen brothers, Alfonso Cuaron, Alexander Payne), the biggest names this film has to offer are Mira Nair and Brett Ratner, the latter not someone normally associated with this sort of arthouse fare.
True to form, Ratner's entry is one of the most overtly entertaining, involving a young man (Anton Yelchin) whose prom dream date (Olivia Thirlby) turns out to be a girl in a wheelchair. But she's hiding a few surprises under her gown.
Ratner brings the most visual humor, where as Yvan Attal's entry, about an attempted pickup by a guy (Ethan Hawke) lighting a woman's cigarette outside a SoHo restaurant, packs the most verbal punch. Hawke, coming on strong to Maggie Q, gets politely graphic in selling his own well-honed skills with the G spot. Hawke's delivery has the right blend of courtesy and confidence, and the writing by Attal and Olivier Lecot, is strong, to-the-point and funny.
Those are the entries with obvious punchlines: beginning, middle, end. Others are more amorphous and impressionistic - and make less of an impression. A short directed by Natalie Portman - about a father and daughter on a daytime outing mistaken for nanny, er, manny and his charge - has a nice bittersweet tang; Nair's short, which stars Portman as a Hasidic bride-to-be who entertains a fantasy about an East Indian diamond dealer (Irrfan Khan) with whom she's haggling, captures a feeling of longing without going much of anywhere.
The best of that variety is one of the final segments, with Cloris Leachman and the incomparable Eli Wallach as an elderly married couple quibbling and bickering as they walk to the boardwalk to look at the ocean in Brighton Beach. It's a joy to listen to and watch these old pros in a big of shtick that percolates with the unspoken and repeated dialogue of decades of marriage.
Most other entries make less of an impression, trying too hard or not hard enough. Producer Benbihy also confuses the issue by weaving the pieces together with interstitial transitional business, skits that incorporate characters from different segments in brief, open-ended encounters.
Paris, I Love You, by contrast, broke up its films with panoramas and slices of city life, announcing each new segment with a title card that included the director's name. Its New York counterpart is more casual in its approach and, as a result, occasionally confusing.
Some films accumulate power as they go on. A film like New York, I Love You stops and starts without accruing much of anything. On the bright side, if you don't like one of these offerings, you don't have to wait long for the next one.
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