Inconsistency is the curse of the anthology film, but the entries in the omnibus New York, I Love You are united by their near-total lack of interest. Spawned by the brain trust behind the spotty Paris, Je T’Aime, an artistic triumph by comparison, the movie was produced by directors challenged to work fast and cheap (two shooting days, a week for editing), which explains the generally half-baked quality of its 10 intermingled installments. Unlike its predecessor, which allowed directors as stylistically diverse as the Coen brothers and Alexander Payne to leave their own imprint, New York, I Love You tries to mix them all into the same stew. Rather than an all-star auteurfest, the movie is gathering of the second-rate—or, in the case of Brett Ratner, substantially lower. The segments don’t form anything like a coherent whole, but they aren’t distinctive enough to clash meaningfully with each other, either.
To start at the bottom: The heavy-handed Ratner tries his hand at antic comedy with a vignette about a just-dumped high-schooler (Anton Yelchin) who gets tricked into taking a disabled girl (Olivia Thirlby) to the prom. The segment’s oafish wheelchair gags are hardly redeemed by its closing twist. At the other end of the sensitivity spectrum, Mira Nair sets up an encounter between Irrfan Khan’s Indian diamond merchant and Natalie Portman’s Orthodox Jewish buyer. Plunging right into a cultural compare-and-contrast session—she shaves her head; his wife, a nun, does too!—Nair crams a feature’s worth of life lessons into a handful of minutes.
Highlights are precious few, although fans of Yvan Attal’s My Wife Is An Actress will recognize the miniaturist take on familiar themes (as well as the fondness for Radiohead) that play out through a pair of two-handed seductions centered around the act of smoking. Fatih Akin’s segment, with artist Ugur Yücel obsessing over Chinatown resident Shu Qi, at least seems to have been made from good stuff, but it feels as if it was cut at random from a more complete work.
The bad ideas far outnumber the good, and nowhere more so than in a segment written by Anthony Minghella and directed by Shekhar Kapur, who stepped in after Minghella’s death. The ludicrousness of Shia LaBeouf’s untraceable Slavic accent is topped by an even more preposterous magic-realist coda involving the sudden appearance of John Hurt. There are eight million stories in the naked city, but none of these are any good.