I’ll never forget the closing segment of Paris je’taime, the wondrous anthology of short films that encapsulated the city of love. In that final vignette, directed by Alexander Payne, character actress Margo Martindale aimlessly wandered around Paris, independent of task and duty, her purposely poor-spoken narration fitting the tone perfectly.
Resting on a park bench after a day-long trek, she finds herself in the midst of a melancholy revelation. I won’t reveal anymore, but in those final moments, Martindale’s face expresses a lifetime of emotion. Her tender nuance, her subtle comfort; it’s all remarkably beautiful. Never have I seen six minutes of film fit together so seamlessly.
And while that segment helped make Paris je’taime one of my favorite films of 2007, I can’t say I’m surprised that its predecessor, New York, I Love You, doesn’t live up to the same standards.
Going with the same concept he used before, producer Emmanuel Benbihy enlists a handful of talented directors to tell individual stories of love in the city that never sleeps. The first major problem is the shifting from one segment to another. In Paris je’taime, each segment began with the location of the city and the director of the short. But here, not only do we get no title cards, it’s actually hard to tell when one short ends and another begins. This is done on purpose, I think. And believe me, I’m all for experimental editing, but this is silly. At times, the film as a whole feels like it was cut by an NYU film student with a shitty GPA.
As with Paris je’taime, some segments are better than others. Highlights include Yvan Attal’s shifty short which has a sultry Robin Wright Penn teasing a kind Chris Cooper outside a restaurant. In the sexiest of the bunch, Bradley Cooper and Drea de Matteo separately recall their recent one night stand together. But the transcendent highlight is the segment I still can’t fully figure out. Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth) casts Julie Christie as an aged singer in a hotel room with a disabled Shia LaBeouf. The outcome of their conversation is warmly haunting, yet mysteriously guided.
There are a few other slight delights, sure. But for the most part, the rest of the segments aren’t nearly as engaging. I’m surprised by a couple things. First, with such a racially vast assembly of directors, I find it hard to believe that 90% of them chose to make their films starring straight, white characters. Second, why didn’t more filmmakers venture away from Manhattan? I guess Brooklyn, I Love You, isn’t as exciting.
Although I have to admit, as tired as some of the segments feel, there is great reassurance in knowing that in a few minutes, you’ll be given a brand new story. I wonder what’s next. IMDB says Shanghai, I Love You is set for 2011. Benbihy says Rio will be next. Either way, I’m always in the mood for love. B-