Declare love to your metropolis, one short at a time. Of course Paris was first, with “Paris Je t’aime.” Next stop — New York, but with fewer directors and even less love.
Now, I know this was logically unsound, but I went into this movie hoping that eleven really awesome things would come together into an even-better-than-the-sum-of-its-parts, 103-minute thing. I thought this film would surely make me shrug in acceptance of the “it’s complicated” relationship mantra, sigh at life and well, love New York. I think that’s what they were going for, but, well — it’s complicated.
“ They,” in this case, were 11 directors working under specific constraints to say something about the universal: allowed only two days to shoot and one week to edit, they had to show us love in the city in 8 minutes or less. Like a short story, one quickly realizes that a film short, too, is its own art form — one which too many of these feature-length filmmakers either didn’t take seriously enough, took too seriously or simply didn’t know what to do with. I mean, can the dude who gave us Rush Hour 1, 2 and 3 really tell us something about boy-meets-girl and prom? Not without a mild stunt. Involving a tree and a belt …
Too many of the segments end in jokes or surprises — and the few times when the plot isn’t self-consciously clever, the lines are terrible enough to laugh at. They undermine their own good wit — take a raggedy Orlando Bloom, going down the street in typical New York fashion — fast, loud, coffee in hand, sipping between sentences: “he talked, for like, two hours, about like, composers! Wagner, Brahms, Gustav Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Dostoevsky, that killed me …” (pause, sip) Perfect. Now, does the chick on the other end really have to tell him? Really?
At moments, great acting comes about despite the contrived stories — Natalie Portman’s heavy Brooklyn accent as a Hasidic bride-to-be rocked my socks — until the edgy banter morphs into a way-too-awkward-to-be-poignant hug and fantasy sequence. Portman also directed a segment (unlike Scarlet Johansson, who’s directorial debut was either too bad or two different to fit anywhere but the DVD). Portman’s is one of only three parts refreshingly not about hitting on people. Well, almost. The guy, like most of the cast, is hot and gets hit on, but the rest of his story is a day in the park with an adorable little kid. Another notable win is Fatih Akin’s piece, flavored with its ethnic and generational differences, careful camera work and little talking (a miniature of his other works Gegen die Wand and Auf der anderen Seite, two films I DO recommend seeing, about cities, and real people, too).
So it’s not all bad. You’ll recognize a bunch of places you’ve been to, probably with fond memories — Coney Island, or you know, buildings and streets. I love New York, but the movie only pretends to. Visually satisfactory, but short of stunning, don’t look to the story to save you — nothing pulls any of these pieces together — you could jumble them all up in another editing room and it wouldn’t make a difference. Thank you for sparing me the “Babel”/”Crash” everything-is-connected cliché, but at the same time, I shouldn’t be guessing how many shorts are left during the movie’s only sex scene — even if it’s only flashbacks in yellow lighting. It’s a good film for dates, sort of — you won’t miss much if you’re not paying attention. Perhaps a sign of little substance?
Disappointingly, the film, unlike the city, isn’t awfully diverse — maybe because the characters are all middle class and straight, or because there are one-too-many bar scenes, or because the cityscape transitions were not exactly avant-garde. Cue obligatory time-lapse of Grand Central. Cue shots of too many people walking too fast on too many cell phones with too little compassion. But after all that, aren’t you supposed to really make us see how everyone is actually special, complex and wonderful in their own underappreciated way. Yeah … All the woman are basically variations on stereotypes (nagging/seductive/troubled/wholesome/old), and still they are more interesting than the men, who are all too similar for me to remember. Maybe this is the most honest way to show modern love. Maybe five minutes is enough to stick around or move on. But, damn it, if I have to speed date my way through the film, deciding if I care about these people, at least give me a decent soundtrack, or you know, actual problems, or you know, better pick-up lines.