Romance and New York City go together like the red heart and “NY” in Milton Glaser’s famous logo. Jill Andresevic’s documentary Love Etc. covers both sprawling subjects with the perfunctory efficiency of a whirlwind weekend visit—a landmark or two, an ethnic neighborhood, a trip downtown, and a commemorative T-shirt. The five subjects it follows are all from different parts of the city and are in different stages of relationships. There’s Ethan, a divorced single-dad construction worker from Forest Hills; Chitra and Mahendra, an Indian couple from Jamaica Hills who are preparing to marry; Scott, a gay theater director who lives in Harlem and hopes to find someone who accepts the two children he’s just had with a surrogate; Gabriel and Danielle, SoHo high-school seniors; and Albert and Marion, a Canarsie couple who’ve been married 48 years and are now dealing with Marion’s dementia.
The last pair—he’s a songwriter, she’s a lyricist, they lived next door to each other for years, but didn’t meet—are most poignantly reminiscent of one of the film’s apparent touchstones, the interviews that punctuate When Harry Met Sally… None of the other storylines achieve that kind of charm, and most proceed with a lightweight disposability more in line with the rhythms of reality TV. Some of the film’s threads are more compelling than others, though all receive equal treatment. The SoHo storyline, for instance, has all the potency of being trapped in an elevator with two teenagers cooing about how much they’ll miss each other when they go off to college, and Ethan, while a devoted father, is boorish about women. Chitra and Mahendra, on the other hand, are enmeshed in a tangle of conflicting cultural and gender-identity expectations that could have used more time to unravel, and Scott’s sections are so focused on the arrival of his infants that his love life becomes an afterthought.
Love Etc.’s cross-section of New Yorkers simply isn’t as captivating as its cross-section of New York, particularly the Queens and Brooklyn neighborhoods that rarely grace the screen. The film’s central romance is unquestionably with the city itself, as Andresevic uses loving shots of it to knit together the characters’ journeys. It’s too bad the wanness of the majority of those storylines makes it seem more like a fling than a relationship with any chance of going the distance.